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Canadiens vs. Flyers: Game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch

The Habs should be eager to put a bad performance behind them.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens vs. Philadelphia Flyers

How to watch

Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CityTV, Sportsnet East (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Flyers region: NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Canadiens executed part of the game plan on Thursday. They were taking on a Columbus Blue Jackets team that is struggling on defence, and put 40 shots on target, four of them getting beyond goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. It was the third consecutive game in which Columbus surrendered four goals.

The problem is that Montreal didn’t seem to take their opponent seriously. The first period saw the Blue Jackets get plenty of odd-man rushes as Habs defencemen just weren’t disciplined in their positioning and choosing when to pinch. And despite the 40 shots, the Habs probably could have had another 20 if they hadn’t been looking for a perfect setup all night long. Some potential shots from good scoring areas were turned into passes as the players seemed to be looking for highlight-reel goals, and many of those passes were meant to go through multiple defenders, and that failed all game long.

Playing the final two minutes with their goalie pulled and just passing the puck around the offensive zone looking completely oblivious to the fact that they needed to score twice to tie the game summed up the night’s effort. What could have easily been a multi-goal win for the Habs was instead a 6-4 loss.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that they got this performance out of the way as they’ve begun a stretch versus some of the league’s worst teams. Playing down to an opponent was something the Habs hadn’t been doing as much under Martin St-Louis, especially with some young players trying to prove themselves, but last game proved that this group isn’t immune from such play. They get a chance to rebound against another struggling Metropolitan Division team, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistics Flyers
Canadiens Statistics Flyers
8-8-1 Record 7-7-3
46.1& (25th) Scoring-chances-for % 40.2% (32nd)
3.00 (20th) Goals per game 2.47 (32nd)
3.47 (23rd) Goals against per game 3.06 (12th)
17.0% (28th) PP% 17.9% (27th)
80.0% (11th) PK% 74.1% (27th)
2-1-0 H2H Record (21-22) 1-0-2

The Blue Jackets’ issues were on the defensive side, while Philadelphia is an offensively challenged club. The Flyers rank 32nd in the NHL with their 2.47 goals per game, and enter the Bell Centre having scored just one goal in three of their past four games, mired in a five-game losing streak.

Philadelphia actually started off the year well. They weren’t scoring a lot of goals, but were getting stellar goaltending from Carter Hart to make those goals count, earning points in nine of their first 12 games. The last four starts have been difficult for the netminder whose short career has been highlighted by red-hot and ice-cold stretches, and now the Flyers can’t outscore their issues.

Montreal has begun to develop some defensive problems of their own. The four rookies in the lineup were playing better than anyone could have expected through the opening month, but now they’ve begun to show some cracks. The player impacted the most is Jordan Harris, whose excellent goal differential of plus-six a week ago is now down to plus-two after he was on the ice for seven of the last 15 goals against (and also three for his team, including the one he scored on Thursday). He has unfortunately been a feature in some of the opponents’ highlights after a few missed coverages and an unlucky own goal in the last game. The workload may be getting to the rookie who is averaging about 20 minutes per night after being used to playing only on weekends in the NCAA the last four seasons.

The imminent return of Mike Matheson may be a blessing for Harris, allowing the young defenceman to get easier matchups and fewer minutes to keep developing without burning out. Matheson, the Canadiens’ highest-paid defenceman, hasn’t yet played a regular-season game for the team following his trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has been practising with the Habs as part of his recovery from an abdominal strain sustained in the pre-season. Five weeks into what was originally expected to be an eight-week absence, he has been cleared to play and could be in the lineup tonight.

He was skating with Joel Edmundson at practice on Friday morning, which suggests it will be Arber Xhekaj who exits the lineup to make room. The Canadiens do have the roster down to the limit of 23, so Xhekaj doesn’t have to be assigned anywhere, but the Habs also don’t want to have him be a regular in the press box, so an assignment to the AHL may be in store. The 4-9-3 Laval Rocket could certainly use Xhekaj’s services, as long as the discipline issues he had in Junior, and that were carried into the NHL (40 penalty minutes in 17 games played), don’t get reinforced in a league that’s more accepting of that style of play.

If Matheson does return versus the Flyers, he’s sure to have some rust as he readjusts to the NHL game. It is a good part of the schedule in which to get back up to speed, and Edmundson, who just went through the same thing himself, can carry the load while his partner works out the kinks. It would be the first time all season the Habs have all options available on the blue line, and we’ll see what a club that has performed better than expected to this point can do with their new number-one defenceman in the picture.