The Montreal Canadiens’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers took on a much different tone a few hours before puck drop as the Habs announced that the game was going to be played behind closed doors due to rising COVID cases in the area.
Montreal’s lineup didn’t look much different from its previous game, with the biggest changes being Cayden Primeau called up to start for the Habs, and Mathieu Perreault was absent due to a lower-body injury. For the injury-laden Flyers, they had called up a few reinforcements from the AHL as well, in addition to giving Carter Hart the start at the Bell Centre.
The Flyers pushed the pace early on in the first period, but an interference call against Zach MacEwen against Michael Pezzetta sent the Canadiens to the game’s first power play. In the early moments of said power play, Montreal continued their trend of hammering shots off the iron and not finding the back of the net. While the reworked power play units peppered Carter Hart with multiple chances, the Flyers managed to kill the penalty off.
The Habs found some momentum off of that flurry of chances, though, and thanks to that they were able to find the back of the net. Alexander Romanov kept the puck in along the blue line, feeding it to Brett Kulak at the right-side point. Kulak flicked a shot in on net, seemingly fooling Hart and putting Montreal up by a goal. Upon further replay, it looked like Artturi Lehkonen tipped it to put the home team on top early.
The Habs’ pressure kept the Flyers on their heels as the period wore on, and then it was Ben Chiarot clanging a shot off the crossbar, adding to the total number of pings in the last two games for the Habs. Then it was Lehkonen and Cole Caufield creating havoc around the net, but Hart stymied the repeated chances in close.
Montreal was handed another man advantage, which continued to keep the pressure on the Flyers but again failed to find the back of the net. Even as the Flyers took a bit more control of the puck, before long it was all Montreal as the period came to an end with the Habs leading by one.
Period two started much the same as the first one ended, with the Habs dominating the flow of play in the early going. This time however, a Habs breakdown led to the Flyers finding the back of the net after Mike Hoffman couldn’t clear a puck at the line. With the clearing attempt failing, the puck went back in deep and itwas kicked back to the front of the net, where Max Willman dodged a sliding Nick Suzuki to roof his second of the year past Primeau.
The goal brought some life back into Philly’s game, but Montreal continued matched them shift for shift, with Caufield as well as the fourth line running wild in the offensive zone, but Hart continued to hold his lines to fend off the Habs’ attack. Before long, the Flyers caught the Canadiens a step behind, and Joel Armia was sent to the box on a tripping call.
Montreal’s penalty kill rose to the challenge, creating short-handed chances for themselves and keeping the Flyers far to the outside where they were forced to settle for long-range slapshots, which Primeau gloved with ease. With the Flyers’ power play killed off, the Habs went right back to work hounding the opposing goalie, but je still refused to yield a second goal.
Before the period was over, however, one small mistake led to a second Flyers goal. Pezzetta had a poorly timed line change, leaving Jake Evans a half step behind Jackson Cates heading into the Habs’ zone. Jeff Petry rightfully took his man after a failed attempt earlier to precent the rush, assuming Evans was going to catch Cates, but the forward wasn’t able to do so, allowing Cates to snap a shot by the blocker of Primeau to put Philly up by a goal heading into the third period.
With the late goal in their pocket, the Flyers came out in period three pushing the Habs back, so Primeau was called upon to keep the heavy attack at bay. The young goalie did just that, denying the Flyers the chance to increase their lead. He even had to bail himself out after he turned a puck over in front of his net, then had to kick the pad out to deny Max Willman a second goal.
Cayden Primeau turns the puck over, and then kicks out the pad to take away a sure Flyers goal. pic.twitter.com/F87mvEjBn5— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 17, 2021
Montreal worked its way back into the game and the improbably good line of Jonathan Drouin, Laurent Dauphin, and Jesse Ylönen found themselves starring. Chiarot walked deep into the zone and put a puck on net, Hart wasn’t able to corral the rebound, and that led to a scramble in front. Dauphin and Ylönen both lunged for the loose puck, with the Finn batting Dauphin’s stick into the puck, and then it into the back of the net.
Dauphin’s first goal in five years at the NHL level gave the Habs a strong boost, and forced the game into overtime. Even at three-on-three, the Canadiens found a way to make things interesting as Chiarot was whistled for roughing after the first pause, forcing Montreal to kill a four-on-three in the extra period. They managed that, and sprung Chiarot out of the box for a breakaway, which the hulking defender turned into a slapshot that clearly stung Hart.
Neither side gave much as the extra frame neared its end, and because the game wasn’t already weird enough, it went to a shootout in front of no one at all. Drouin was up first, and with a quick flick of the wrist he roofed a shot by Hart to give the Habs the early advantage.
Here's your shootout winner courtesy of Jonathan Drouin pic.twitter.com/bOWtV4xZvK— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 17, 2021
From there it was all about the goalies as Primeau stood tall to deny the first two Flyers shooters with ease, while Hart outwitted Cole Caufield and Mike Hoffman. Then, with Cam Atkinson trying to keep the Flyers’ hopes alive, Primeau made a brilliant pad save, and then had Atkinson fall on him, leaving the young goalie injured and needing assistance to leave the ice following the Montreal victory.
Primeau goes 3 for 3 in the shootout, and gets injured by Cam Atkinson in the process because we cannot have nice things. pic.twitter.com/RpI7bAm9wk— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 17, 2021
It now become a waiting game for the Canadiens, as they are scheduled to play the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. With the current ongoing cancellations of games and COVID outbreaks around the league, it’s unclear what the status will be.