Against all odds, the Montreal Canadiens played David to the Goliath that was Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins and came away with a series victory. But that was then, this is now, and the Canadiens have a new foe to face, Claude Giroux and his Philadelphia Flyers. There is very little brotherly love between the teams, to say the least as they battled in Game 1 of this first-round playoff series. A close 2-1 score was the result, with the Habs coming up just short.
Slow Start Offensively
The game began with the Canadiens’ back on their heels. After shaking off early nervous energy, they began winning board battles and finishing their checks on the cycle, but Philadelphia was happy to allow the Habs to work on the outside. The Habs weren’t aggressive enough at the start of the game and weren’t getting pucks and bodies to the front of the net. Only five shots made it to the net in the first period. That is not enough to test a young and inexperienced Carter Hart.
Once the second period began, the Habs adjusted to generate speed in transition by using a stretch pass in the gaps Philadelphia left between their forwards and defence in the neutral zone. Occasionally they were able to get to the net and on those occasions, the Flyers couldn’t handle the forwards darting in and out, generating screens for Hart to deal with. As seen with Montreal’s first power-play goal of these playoffs when Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher were battling at the top of the crease and kicked the rebound out to Shea Weber to slap it into an empty net.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Flyers Goalies
As the Canadiens’ desperation for a goal grew, head coach Claude Julien moved Max Domi up to the wing on a line with Drouin and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. In their five shifts together, that line held possession and generated several opportunities. As a whole, the Habs dominated possession with a 55.45% Corsi For percentage.
Julien will need to find a way to have three offensively capable lines in order to keep pace with the depth of the Flyers’ forward lines. All that being said, a shot off the crossbar by Nick Suzuki in the final minute of play was the “almost” for the Canadiens’ hopes to push the game into overtime.
Blue Line Adjustments
The Canadiens’ blue line came into the series after four straight games of all three pairs remaining unchanged. The “trident” as the top three of Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot has been dubbed, were the backbone of the defensive core yet again.
The adjustment into this series was Julien allowing Brett Kulak the freedom to activate offensively. He was rushing the puck up ice in transition often, even pinching deep multiple times. Perhaps that caused some fatigue as he lost a one-on-one battle in front of the net against Joel Farabee, who scored the eventual game-winning goal.
As seen at times against Pittsburgh, the third pairing of Xavier Ouellet and Victor Mete was over-matched. On transition they acquitted themselves well, yet, the issue was winning possession behind the net. They had difficulty winning puck battles and especially had issues clearing the front of the net.
At one point, Ouellet made a split-second decision while defending a partial breakaway and pushed Flyers center Derek Grant into Price near the end of the first. Grant went into Price heavily, luckily everyone got up unharmed.
You may be surprised to hear the Canadiens outhit the Flyers, 32 to 27, but that isn’t sustainable with an undersized third pairing being consistently outmuscled. One adjustment fans may see in Game 2 to counter the increased size and aggressive forwards Philadelphia boasts could be the introduction of Cale Fleury or Noah Juulsen to the lineup. Both bring size, physicality and mobile play into transition and are waiting in the stands to get the call.
The Canadiens were soundly out-chanced in the first period and Price performed as expected, he kept the Habs in the game. Despite a power-play goal against, a tipped shot with a complete screen by Jakub Voracek, the Habs were only behind by one goal, when it could have easily been more. A well-played power play by Philadelphia was the only way to beat him early.
He kept his cool and his focus all game, even after Grant ran into him. Instead of using his blocker to punch Grant, who as mentioned was thrown into Price without Price seeing that as he was tracking the puck, Price restrained himself and went back to work.
He was stellar throughout the game. The defense providing more support by clearing the crease so he can see the shots will need to happen for the Habs to have success. It also helps when he is making near-miraculous saves like this one to keep the game at 2-1 for Philadelphia.
With such a close-fought Game 1, has your series prediction changed after the performances of both teams? With Montreal playing the Flyers as tightly as they have, some fans may have.
I have been a writer covering the NHL and the Montreal Canadiens for over 6 years. I am also currently a 27+ year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces