Normally teams look forward to lengthy homestands, but everyone in the Montreal Canadiens organization was surely happy that Saturday afternoon’s game versus the Philadelphia Flyers would be the final one before heading out on the road. The first four games at the Bell Centre were all losses, so the team was desperate to earn a win versus what has been one of the best teams in the month of November.
A great start was what the Canadiens needed to gain some confidence that the streak could finally be brought to an end, and Joel Armia provided just that. Collecting the puck in his own end and facing the neutral-zone trap that the Flyers have employed, he didn’t attempt to make a pass, but simply carried it up the wall with several opponents around him in a swarm. More focused on taking away passing lanes than the puck, the winger was allowed to skate right into the Flyers’ zone and got a deflection on his shot to put Montreal on top just 19 seconds in.
The Habs had a chance to build on that lead as Artturi Lehkonen drove to the net. He didn’t score, but the sequence did lead to a power play. The special-teams units never got set up in the zone, and the chance to make it a 2-0 game early went by the wayside.
Another aggressive drive to the net, this time by Phillip Danault, saw the centreman pulled down after getting past his man and crashing into Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott, with no penalty was called on the play. Though Danault stayed down on his knees for a moment and had to be helped to the room, he returned to action a few minutes later.
The most danger the Canadiens got themselves into came from turnovers. Unlike the ones they were allowing on Thursday night versus the New Jersey Devils, these ones didn’t result in goals in the first period, because the Habs defencemen were mindful to get back into good defensive positioning rather than making ill-advised pinches to win the puck back.
A strong forecheck and the commitment to more conservative play without the puck allowed the Canadiens to carry the 1-0 advantage into the first intermission.
The man who got that lead nearly extended it on his first shift of the second period. Armia chased down a Flyers defender trying to handle the puck in his own zone, stripped it away, but was stopped on his chance to score his second goal of the day.
Despite the Canadiens doing well to keep the Flyers to the perimeter, it was from the half-wall that the Flyers tied the game. Justin Braun tossed the puck toward the net, and it went off Oskar Lindblom in front to tie the game at one apiece.
Montreal didn’t let the loss of the lead get to them, as they came right back down the ice and put themselves ahead once more. Shea Weber’s point shot also hit a body in front, but didn’t benefit from as much luck as Braun’s had, coming to a rest in the crease. Tomas Tatar was right there, however, and jammed the puck in.
The Habs gave the lead right back up. After Jeff Petry gathered the puck near his own blue line, he sent a short pass to the winger position to start a breakout, but there was no winger there. Nick Cousins could only watch as the puck went through the ice he would normally be occupying and onto the tape of Joel Farabee. The puck made its way to Kevin Hayes, and the Flyers’ off-season acquisition beat Keith Kinkaid from in close.
More chances followed for the remainder of the period. The Flyers were given a bit too much space in the slot and got a couple for themselves. Montreal’s best were a partial break for Charles Hudon and then a power play that did spend the end of the second period set up in the zone, but Elliott turned them aside at every turn. Montreal carried the momentum into the break, but a one-goal lead like they enjoyed in the first would have been much more welcome.
The momentum didn’t survive the intermission. With the penalty over, the Flyers were the ones to get the go-ahead goal 1:34 into the final period. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was forced to play defence with Cale Fleury taken out in the neutral zone, and Claude Giroux set up Travis Konecny for the 3-2 goal.
Lehkonen’s good work around the net helped to draw another call, getting tripped as he tried to chase the puck around the wall. The power play that was looking very dangerous to end the second picked right back up, this time converting just 10 seconds in. Nick Suzuki was in a shooting position at the right faceoff dot, but instead hooked across a no-look seam pass that only he and Tatar were aware of. With every defender — including the goalie — prepared to defend the shot from the rookie, Tatar was left all alone, and had time to settle the puck before hitting the empty cage.
The Flyers just about went ahead once again, but a shot from Farabee just seemed to drift on its way to the net and pinged off the post. The forward celebrated, but the goal line was never broken by the shot.
Tatar nearly completed the hat trick at the opposite by driving the net and just getting the shot blocked by Elliott. A bit too eager to get a follow-up chance, he chopped the stick out of Travis Konecny’s hands and was forced to sit. He was in the box for the full two minutes as his teammated killed the minor off.
Montreal had a few more looks in the next few minutes, but spent the final part of the period hanging on after a long shift allowed the Flyers to hold possession for several shifts. The Habs survived and got their third point since the losing streak began, then headed off to overtime in search of another.
Going offside on their first rush prevented the Habs from getting their chance. The second and final one went to the Flyers. With plenty of space to build up speed through the neutral zone, Konecny decided to attack Max Domi’s side of the ice rather than Petry’s, and skated around the forward to pot the game-winner.
It was a seventh consecutive defeat for the Canadiens as they fell by a 4-3 score. The Canadiens will try to keep it from reaching eight tomorrow night versus the Boston Bruins.
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Artturi Lehkonen, and especially Joel Armia have looked very good over the last two games. You could have argued that a team with as poor defence as the Devils allowed Kotkaniemi to stand out on Thursday — that was definitely true on his goal with no one around him — but playing similarly versus a great defensive team like the Flyers shows that it is a legitimate uptick in play. He looked good battling for pucks yesterday, Lehkonen had some great chances and helped earn power plays, while Armia scored one goal and nearly had another. When the Canadiens finally break out of the slump they’re in, it may very well be the Finnish forwards who are the reason why.
- Had this game fell in the midst of a strong run, it probably would have been dismissed as just an unfortunate result. Montreal outplayed Philadelphia for most of the night, with a few breakdowns resulting in some goals against. Ninety-five percent of the game was what the Canadiens want to be doing, but that other five percent has been killing them.