The Habs came into Philadelphia facing a flyers team without James Van Riemsdyk, Chris Pronger, and Jaromir Jagr. A Flyers team starting it's backup goalie - Sergei Bobrovsky - all things that Randy Tieman described on TSN 990 AM's "Tieman Show" as good things.
Coming into the the game, the Flyers led the NHL with 77 goals for, so the losses of Jagr and Van Riemsdyk wouldn't be as difficult to absorb as the loss of Pronger - a defenceman who regularly plays half the game. As Marc Denis proclaimed in the RDS pre game, The Canadiens needed a "Full 60 minute effort". The Canadiens needed to attack a weakened Philly defense.On the TSN regional feed however, John Bartlett interviewed Coach Jacques Martin and before the puck was dropped his plan was flawed.
"The Flyers have 3 productive lines with good depth and a very mobile defense", the coach would say. With 2 of the top 9 forwards out of the lineup, it's more like the Fylers were playing with 2 productive lines - the depth would be tested with sustained forward pressure. However, as the Coach would continue to tell John Bartlett, the keys to victory would be to "sustain good back pressure and spend little time in our own end." So basically, the Habs game plan was to not try to take advantage of the Flyers injuries and back-up goaltender, the Habs game plan was to play in-between the blue lines and wait for a Flyers mistake.
Coach Martin's plan actually looked pretty good after one period of play. 13:35 into the period, the Habs had only given up 2 shots to the Flyers and shortly thereafter at 18:14 Petteri Nokelainen would steal a puck of a Flyers mistake, catch Goalie Bob sleeping and the Habs would head to the dressing room with a 1 goal lead. The Candiens Penalty Kill continued to be perfect, led by Josh Gorges shot blocking - he would add 4 to his already team leading 53. Alexei Emelin was everywhere in the period rubbing out Wayne Simmonds along the boards, and waiting out Bobrovski before missing wide. Emelin would finish with 6 hits on the night, bringing his total to 55 on the year. Erik Cole was everywhere in the period with 2nd and 3rd efforts trying to get to loose pucks whenever he was on the ice, including leveling Andreas Lilja - while Lilja threw a pick on him. The Habs would end up with a power play as a result of the play. It wasn't all roses in the first for the Habs though, they had 2 power-play opportunities on which the Flyers Matt Read had the best scoring chance - hitting a post.
The second period would be a different animal entirely. The Flyers realized the Habs were sitting back and decided to be as aggressive 5 on 5 as they had been on their own Penalty kill. It started with Claude Giroux. Earlier in the day, Brian Jennings who covers the Flyers for Pro Hockey News told Randy Tieman that Pronger was the Captain of the team, buy that the Flyers should "sew an 'L' on Giroux's jersey for 'leader". He proved it with his second period performance. Giroux would have 2 goals, would be instrumental in the Flyers 2nd goal (even though he didn't get an assist) and would have 5 shots in the period. The Canadiens held on to their 1 goal lead through most of the period mainly due to Carey Price. The Flyers would have 10 shots in the first 6:10 of the period and save for a great pad save by Price and a fantastic PK shift by Brian Gionta earlier the Habs looked to be listless. The referees seemed to help out the Canadiens with a chincy hooking call on Claude Giroux with 9:12 to go in the 2nd - but the Canadiens seemed disinterested in taking a 2 goal lead. Raphael Diaz looked scared to make a mistake on the point - as he had already given up a shorthanded scoring chance to Matt Read in the first. The Flyers successfully killed the Penalty and with 6:49 to go in the period Claude Giroux scored his first of the night to tie the game. Giroux took a wide shot right off an offensive zone faceoff, the puck would hit the end boards and go back to a waiting Matt Carle at the point. Carle took a wide shot which careened off the end boards to a waiting Giroux, alone (missed Hal Gill assignment) at the side of the crease. The Flyers kept pressing with another scoring chance barely a minute later. M.A Bourdon would do the Habs a favour chopping at Brian Gionta's stick (while he was on a 2 on 1 with Max Pacioretty) to send the Canadiens to a 5th power play. The Habs looked way too tentative - Diaz looked more scared than before now having given up 2 shorthanded scoring chances. The Canadiens would have another uneventful listless power play (think they could use Andrei Markov??). The Diaz-Weber pairing would be stuck on the ice too long unable to change while Claude Giroux ran around the Canadiens zone just as the power play ended - Jakub Voracek would score a goal with them on the ice to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. As Daren Eliot would point out on the TSN regional broadcast the Canadiens forwards changed while Giroux was running around and they got caught of defensive positioning. With just 2:15 to go int he period, the Habs seemed content to just get out of the period down by one - but Giroux wasn't content and the Flyers continued their aggression. The Habs would ice a puck with 30 seconds to go in the period, resulting in a defensive zone face-off. The aggressive Flyers would pounce on the stagnating Habs and Giroux would pot his second of the game with 5.9 seconds left in the period. The Flyers would head to the dressing room with a 3-1 lead over a Habs team that had come back just once in 11 tries this season when trailing after two.
The Game was ugly from start to finish.The 3rd period looked like 2 teams just going through the motions. Brian Gionta, Lars Eller, Carey Price, Josh Gorges, and Alexei Emelin showed many moments of compete. Cole had a great first period, and Plekanec was solid on the PK. The rest of the Habs were mainly absent. As a Habs fan, one would hope for a better effort Saturday night at home against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, but its a tall order. Crosby has been dynamite thus far this season - but the Habs usually have a way of playing themselves up to their opponent. They didn't this afternoon.