Oh to be a fly on the wall in the dressing room of the Philadelphia Flyers after this one. Coach Hitchcock must be tearing strips out of his players wondering where they were. After two good performances against the Leafs, they came out somewhat flat against the Habs tonight.
On the other hand, Claude Julien has to be pretty pleased with the result and the fact the team played pretty much a perfect game on the road. In what was close to the best team performance of the year, the Habs completely shut down the Flyers in virtually every aspect with only Simon Gagne getting away in the final moments to break Theo’s shutout.
Early in the game, despite the Flyers lack of intensity, it looked like the Habs might have some serious troubles since they were dominated down low on numerous occasions as the bigger boys in black pushed around the smaller Hab defenders. However, even if they did give up a scoring chance, Jose Theodore was there to make the stops – and he made some spectacular ones.
Julien can give a hearty pat on the back to Guy Charron who’s powerplay was dominant again. Less than half a minute into the first chance, Saku Koivu made a great play to Mike Ribeiro, whose deft touch found Richard Zednik alone on the doorstep. He beat Robert Esche to send the Habs up by one.
Late in the first the Flyer injury troubles continued when Koivu hit an off balance Jim Vandermeer sending him crashing into the boards to dislocate his shoulder. This after just having acquired Denny Markov from the Hurricanes to replace some of his other downed rear-guards.
The second period started fairly quickly for the Habs when Zednik found himself being pulled down on a breakaway. With no hesitation, the ref awarded a penalty shot, but the Habs would probably have preferred revisiting that decision as the Zedder missed the net with his shot aimed vaguely towards the top glove corner. Perhaps the Canadiens can ask for the opportunity to decline the penalty shot in the future…
Shortly thereafter, Mike Comrie came in on a two on one and serenely hit Theo in the crest despite Theo making the first move and starting his slide across the crease. Call it the turning point, but after that, the Habs seemed to have a little more jump and it didn’t take long before they popped in their second.
Once again on the powerplay, Ribeiro pulled in an outlet pass from Koivu, turned on a dime in the Flyer zone, then dished cross-ice to Michael Ryder who in turn sent a perfect pass to none other than Zednik, standing alone on the edge of the crease. His 17th turned out to be the winning goal of the night.
The Habs thought they’d gone up by three when Yanic Perreault tipped in a Sheldon Souray shot late in the second. However replays showed his stick was above the crossbar when the puck was touched and the goal was subsequently called off. With a little showmanship, Dan Marouelli, the referee talking to the officials in the replay booth, made as if to point to centre to award the goal, but changed that motion to waving off the effort. Perhaps Andy Van Hallemond is trying to raise the profile of his crew…
Early in the third, Koivu picked up the puck in the Flyers end, made a deft pass to Jan Bulis in the slot, and his quick shot beat Esche to put the Habs up by three for sure.
A little later on, Theo made his best save of the game when Donald Brashear, who surely thought it was Christmas all over again, received a lame duck pass from Souray and sent it across ice. The subsequent sprawling save from Theodore preserved the lead and basically salted away the win.
Late in the game, Gange picked up a puck off a faceoff in the Hab zone, circled everyone then put it past Theo to at least prevent the shutout. Perhaps the Canadiens thought the Flyers were going to just pack it in, and this will be a good lesson for them.
Just seconds later, however, Ryder and Koivu broke out on a two on one. While Ryder seemed to attempt a pass, his effort deflected just over the goal line, though the play had to go for review nonetheless.
With the victory, the Habs find themselves a mere three points behind the Flyers and within spitting distance of the top of the conference – a far cry from where most pundits picked them to finish before the year started.
HW Goal-by-goal Recap – Habs Take it to Philly