There is no disgrace in losing to the hottest team in hockey – which is what the Flyers are at this stage of the season.
Phildaelphia ended the winning streak of its cross-state rival on Tuesday night, then beat the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
They’re a good team, a bona-fide Cup contender if they get decent goaltending.
Sergei Bobrovsky was several notches above decent last night.
He faced a bombardment of 41 shots. The Flyers’ defence blocked another 22, and the Canadiens had 21 misses.
As I wrote in Quick Hits, that’s a lot of puck possesion against a good hockey team. And if four demonstrable errors hadn’t led to Philadelhia goals … well, who knows?
This is turning into an interesting rivalry, which will resume at the Wells Gargo Center on Jan. 25. Given their recent playoff history and the number of fast, skill ful players on both sides, the Canadiens and Flyers play up-tempo, entertaining hockey. And it was refreshingly free of Philadelphia’s patented thuggery last night.
A contest of skill came down to a W by the team that had, last night at least, the better goaltender and best skater on the ice.
That would be Jeff Carter: a goal, two assists, seven shots of goal. Carter’s line, with James van Riemsdyk and Nikolai Zherdev, was easily the visitors’ best on a night when the Canadiens controlled habitual nemeses Daniel Brière, Mike Richard, Scott Hartnell and, until his late insurance goal, Claude Giroux.
The Canadiens had two effective lines – and that, for me, was the most encouraging aspect of the game.
Trailing 2-0 in a dead and despondent Bell Centre, Jacques Martin juggled his top line 15 minutes into the second period. Benoit Pouliot replaced Travis Moen with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, and the line spent an entire shift in the Philadelphia zone.
Then the Scott-Gomez-Brian Gionta-Max Pacioretty line exerted similar dominance, and Chris Pronger took Philadelphia’s first penalty of the game.
(Imagine waiting almost 37 minutes for a power play against a team that averages 15 PiM per game?)
When Braydon Coburn joined Pronger in the box, Philadelphia was deproived of its two best Dmen. P.K. Subban fired a laser past Bobrovsky, the crowd went bersek and the Canadiens were back in the game.
Thirty-one games into the season, the Canadiens may have finally found their Top Six forwards. Benny was a force on the Pleks line, and Max-Pac complemented his countrymen on the new All-American line.
I hope Martin sticks with those combinations against the Bruins tonight.
It’s an early-season must-win for the Canadiens. Boston is two points back in the Northeast, with two games in hand.
If the Bs win tonight, the Canadiens will be riding four straight losses into their pre-Christmas road trip.
But as my learned colleague, Patrick V. Hickey, pointed out last night, last season’s team had lost five in a row when it hit the road in late December. The Canadiens reeled off wins on Long Island and in Atlanta, Carolina and Toronto.
For a team that made the playoffs by a single point, those December wins were huge.
Maybe history will repeat itself. But just to be on the safe side, a win tonight would be nice.
• • •
As Annakin Slayd posted on Facebook last night, the “We’re Fine Without Markov” period is officially over.
Granted, they didn’t get the puck support they needed from forwards, but the Canadiens D had a rough night.
Hal Gill looked conspicuously slow against the flying Philadelphians. Jaro Spacek pinched too deep – late in a 3-3 game – on the winning goal. Alexandre Picard looked jittery.
And P.K. was P.K. High risk, high reward. The kid electrifies the Bell Centre and gives his coach acid reflux.
It’s part of a maturation process that’s going to turn Subban into a very good and maybe great defenceman. But getting there from here will be an adventure.
I think we’ve seen the last of P.K. in the pressbox. His speed, puck-moving skill and instincts in the O-zone are too valuable, especially with Markov out all season.
It might be an idea to sub in Yannick Weber for Picard against Boston tonight.
• • •
Lars Eller played 6:17.
If his father went for a beer, he may have missed his first glimpses of his son as an NHLer.
Olaf Eller probably was in his seat when Larry was sent out on the PK in a 3-3 game.
I ranted about it in Quick Hits, and I still can’t fathom Martin’s thinking there. The kid had played all of seven shifts to that point.
How do you have an ice-cold rookie centre out in a crucial situation during a 3-3 game?
For a coach that’s been great this season, that’s a head-scratcher.