The first overall Flyers (well, tied with Vancouver) host the Habs tonight and for both teams it’s the last game before the All-Star break. In their last game before the Christmas break, Philly lost to the Panthers 5-0, so they plan to be more prepared this time and not looking ahead to their time off.
“We can’t overlook that game. It’s going to be a very intense game –
they always are against Montreal,” said center Danny Briere (quoted by Sam Carchidi in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s easy to
get motivated for a game like that.”
“They’re a great, defensive-oriented team with great goaltending, so we’re going to have our work cut out to earn some goals,” captain Mike Richards told Carchidi, And Richards added the Habs “have always given us problems in the regular season, and it seems like every time we play them, it’s a close game.”
James van Riemsdyk injured his groin in Saturday’s Flyers loss to the Devils and did not play in the Sunday afternoon win over the Blackhawks. It’s uncertain if he’ll play tonight. That allowed Dan Carcillo to get into the lineup Sunday. His value remains mostly as a light heavyweight; otherwise he can be undisciplined, a distraction and ineffective (he’s a team-worst minus-7). Carcillo could well be back in tonight. If so, the game could get contentious.
But even without van Riemsdyk’s 12 goals and 11 assists, the Flyers are a powerful club, their 169 goals tops in the NHL. They’re the only team with four players who have topped the 40-point mark so far this season — Claude Giroux (46), Richards (45), Briere (43) and Jeff Carter (43). Giroux had four assists on Sunday. And these four guys play on three different lines, which poses problems for opposition defenders. All four of these players are centres, although Carter and Giroux alternate between centre and wing.
Those four aside, Philly also gets strong contributions from their other wingers like Ville Leino, Scott Hartnell and van Riemsdyk. Nikolay Zherdev, who had been hot the last time the Habs met the Flyers in mid-December, scored against the Blackhawks, but has only two goals in January.
Philly also has Chris Pronger back to anchor their defence. He returned last Thursday after missing 13 games with a broken foot. During that time, the Flyers went 9-4-0. Coach Peter Laviolette eased Pronger back into the lineup in his first game back, giving him about 20 minutes of ice time, but in the last two games, Pronger has been around his season average of 22 minutes. He has played as much as 26 this season.
Their defence corps compensated for his absence by getting some strong production from Matt Carle, who has a goal and 23 assists on the season — all at even strength. Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros also give the Flyers production from the blue line while Braydon Coburn and Sean O’Donnell remain stay-at-home types.
The Flyers continue to be the best team in the NHL five-on-five with 119 goals. But their power play only ranks 20th in the NHL, at 16.6 percent, which will face the Canadiens penalty kill, third best in the league at 85.4. The Habs PP is 10th at 20.6 percent and they’ll face a Flyers PK that is 12th at 82.6. But the Flyers are dangerous shorthanded, with 7 goals, the third best total in the league.
Their record this month is 9-2-0 and part of that has been the improved play of goalie Sergei Bobrovski, who has a 1.80 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in his last five starts. He missed a shutout against the Blackhawks on Sunday only by allowing a penalty shot goal to Marian Hossa.
When the Devils beat the Flyers on Saturday, they did it with an unexpected (for New Jersey) puck possession game that surprised the Flyers. The Canadiens are still a faster team than the Flyers and the battle between Montreal’s speed and Philadelphia’s size and physicality will once again be on display.