Against the Flyers, the Habs faced their old selves and came up wanting
The Canadiens faced a familiar system and found themselves victimized by an inability to capitalize early.
Mere minutes into Saturday night’s tilt, it was clear that one of the teams on the Bell Centre ice played the game in a way that was very familiar to most of the Habs fans watching. Minimal forechecking, passively giving up the defensive blue line time and time again, uncontrolled zone exits, forwards flying the zone prematurely — these were all things that the fans of Les Glorieux had become accustomed to over the past half decade or so.
Only this time, the culprits were wearing orange.
Staring at their old selves across the neutral zone, the current Canadiens put on a masterclass demonstration of how to break their former system. A voracious and smothering forecheck, active neutral zone stickwork, and constantly activating defenders meant that Philadelphia struggled to advance the puck beyond their own blue line for most of the first period. By the conclusion of the opening frame, the shot clock read 12-1 in favour of the home team. Chances were 15-3, and shot attempts 28-9.
The problem was, the scoreboard read 0-0, thanks to the heroics of Carter Hart.
And as Habs fans had seen so many times, the team that had been definitively second-best wound up taking a lead into the third period through what appeared to be a few opportunistic moments. But the Flyers had been turning the game around for most of the second period — long before their goals. Beyond an opening flurry, the Canadiens had largely failed to generate the same type of pressure and chances as they did in the first. From a high point of a +26 shot-attempt differential at 1:54 of the period, the Canadiens ultimately finished the frame at +21, meaning that the Flyers had, overall, the better of the play for the majority of the second.
In the third, the Habs tried to replicate the first period, but their elegant passing-centric zone entries turned into individualistic attempts to beat defenders, smart activation to keep plays alive became ill-timed pinches leading to odd-man rushes against, and the floodgates opened as Philadelphia really put the game to bed — despite the eventual best efforts of Max Domi and Brett Kulak — seven minutes in through Nolan Patrick’s tally on a 2-on-1.
Ultimately, the Canadiens had the Flyers on the mat, let them up, and never regained that lost momentum.