So a postseason series against Philadelphia is a possibility.
Maybe not so much.
The first-place team in the Eastern Conference came to the Bell Centre without the NHL’s leading scorer, Claude Giroux.
Chris Pronger, the heart, soul and titanium cojones of the Flyers’ defence, won’t play again until next autumn … if then.
Philadelphia started its second-string goaltender, Sergei “I’m not as good or as eccentric as Bryzgalov” Bobrovsky.
While bearing little resemblance to the Broad Street Bullies of yesteryear – the Flyers were outhit 21-17 and there was nothing close to a fight – the visitors took nine minor penalties and gifted the Canadiens with TWO 5-on-3 opportunities.
Lacking two stars, outshot 31-25, playing shorthanded for almost 13 minutes, Philadelphia still won a game they never trailed. It was their seventh W in a row – their longest streak since 2002 and timely because the red-hot Flyers co-star with the not-as-hot Rangers (they lost Thursday night) in that great 24/7 documentary series.
HBO cameras were at the Bell Centre. And the American crew had to be impressed by the full-throated roar of 21,273 fans when Louis Leblanc scored the first goal of his NHL career.
It was a good night for “p’tits gars de chez nous”, as we say in Quebec. David Desharnais had a goal and an assist while continuing to merit serious consideration as the team’s Number 1 centre.
There is no doubt that DD is centring the top line. He continues to make sweet plays for his gros-gars-d’ailleurs linemates, Erik Cole, who got his team-leading 12th goal and was deprived of another by the refs, and Max Pacioretty.
Unlike Philadelphia, which, even without Giroux, can throw out three lines capable of exerting pressure and scoring goals, the Canadiens have only the Two and a Half Men playing consistently aggressive hockey in the offensive zone.
Which makes you scratch your head a bit about power-play ToI: 6:19 for Desharnais vs. 6:45 for Tomas Plekanec.
At least Jacques Martin has come around to the notion of Cole as an important part of his PP unit. The veteran power forward played almost eight minutes with the man advantage, right up there with Tomas Kaberle’s 8:11 and P.K. Subban’s 8:47.
The Canadiens had 14 shots on goal during their numerous PPs. That’s almost half their game total, and probably should have yielded more than the one goal that Cole scored.
The addition of Kaberle and the return of Chris Campoli have bolstered the Canadiens point presence on the PP. And Kaberle’s passes are finding P.K. Subban for full-wind-up blasts that found their way to Bobrovsky on a few occasions.
But the Plekanec wave of the power-play is not productive, mainly because Mike Cammalleri – who led both teams with seven SoG – is in a slump: three goals in 21 games … and that – along with the poor season Brian Gionta was having before he got hurt – is just killing a team that doesn’t score much.
In his postgame remarks, Jacques Martin alluded to three Philadelphia goals scored off “mistakes by young players”.
The coach didn’t name names, but Alexei Yemelin was on for the first Philadelphia goal, Desharnais for the second and P.K. Subban for the winner – Andrej Meszaros’s long shot from the blue line on which Carey Price was less than stellar.
DD gets some deserved slack, as does the goaltender who is this team’s MVP. For me, Subban gets a pass, as well … although he’s getting some heat from the punditocracy.
Subban is a 22-year-old kid playing monster minutes in all situations: his 24:09 average is a team high. He and Josh Gorges play against the top forwards in the league; and while his more experienced and defensive-minded partner is plus-12, P.K. is a respectable plus-3 on the season and was even against the Flyers.
So to paraphrase Pink Floyd: Hey preachers, leave that kid alone!
Subban is part of this team’s future. So is Emelin, even though he’s struggling and would have been in the pressbox again if Raphael Diaz weren’t too ill to play.
Lars Eller is another promising youngster … although it’s difficult to display that promise on a line with Mathieu Darche and Petteri Nokelainen.
Despite eliciting a sustained ovation from fans who have spent entirely too much time sitting on their hands while their heroes put them to sleep this season, LL played all of 4:21 on eight shifts.
The Flyers’ rookie first-round draft choice, Sean Couturier, played almost 16 minutes filling in for Giroux between Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr.
High-scoring Philadelphia rookie Matt Read played 17:26, and homeboy defenceman Marc-André Bourdon played 10:48.
Jakub Voracek is the forward the Flyers got in the deal that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus. The 22-year-old Czech – like Plekanec, Jagr and Kaberle, he’s a native of Kladno – has joined the nucleus of young studs who have propelled the Flyers to the top of the Conference.
The Canadiens aren’t a threat to that lofty perch this season.
But with Nathan Beaulieu, Brendan Gallagher and Michäel Bournival – plus Jarred Tinordi and Daniel Pribyl – at the World Juniors, help is on the way.
It just might take a while.