The Habs tried to string together a second consecutive win after beating the Devils on Tuesday. To do so, they travelled to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers who were immediately ahead of the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference standings, but a team that struggles on home ice. With the trade deadline exactly a week away, some veterans on both clubs were quite possibly playing their last games with their teams before potentially being healthy scratched for trade purposes in the coming days. This idea appeared to spark Montreal far more than Philadelphia as the Habs skated away with a comfortable 5-2 win.
Very little changed with the roster as very few bodies remain healthy enough to play. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard once again joined Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson on the team’s top line, while Dach’s continued absence created a huge void in the middle. Christian Dvorak centred the second line with Rem Pitlick and Evgenii Dadonov, while Jonathan Drouin centred the third line with Mike Hoffman and Jesse Ylonen. The fourth line featured newly claimed Chris Tierney, making his Canadiens debut, alongside Alex Belzile and Michael Pezzetta. The blue line was Justin Barron with Mike Matheson, David Savard with Jordan Harris, and Jonathan Kovacevic with Corey Schueneman. Jake Allen was the starter in net.
The first period belonged to Montreal as they outshot the Flyers 14-6 and outscored them 2-0 by the time it was over. The start of the period was a bit more even as teams felt each other out to start the game. As soon as the first five minutes were gone, the Habs started to control the pace of play and spend their shifts in the Flyers’ zone.
Olle Lycksell then took a penalty for slashing in the offensive zone to open the door for the Canadiens and Philadelphia never recovered. The power play did not score, but it was dangerous as Suzuki set up Matheson and the latter set up Hoffman for some scoring chances that Hart stopped. The Flyers got their best chance of the period when Lycksell left the box, but Allen was ready for the chance.
With Montreal all over the Flyers in the second half of the period, the shifts were getting ridiculously long for the home side. The tail end of one of those shifts had Tony DeAngelo on the ice for three minutes and it ended with a great pass from Hoffman to Savard who snuck a shot over Carter Hart’s pad on the far side to open the scoring.
The Canadiens kept the pressure on Philly and got a little luck too as Barron got away with a tackle in the final minute and this ended up being important as the Flyers replied with a similar play on Pezzetta in the Flyers’ zone. The difference was that Pezzetta made a pass toward the slot while falling. That pass found a streaking Tierney who was left all alone in the slot to increase the lead with 4.8 seconds to play in the period.
The second period was slightly better for Philadelphia, but the truth is that it was a period that highlighted why the two clubs on the ice are far from being interesting this season. For the Canadiens, instead of coming out with a killer instinct looking to put away a fragile opponent, they came out expecting an opponent pushback and allowing it to happen. For the Flyers, though they suddenly had the puck on their sticks far more than they did in the first period, they were still unable to win important battles for the pucks, and their fragility also made them hesitant to attack the centre of the ice to gain scoring chances.
Philadelphia led the period 10-6 on the shot clock and gained momentum as the period moved along. However, it was a hit by Belzile that was clearly from behind that created the opportunity for the Habs to earn the only goal of the period. When Belzile delivered the hit, Wade Allison came to the rescue and jumped Belzile, forcing him to fight. Belzile held his own even though he lost the fight.
Because Allison was too quick to drop the gloves, he ended up with an extra instigator penalty. The advantage that was dangerous in the first period wasted little time striking this time around. Just 19 seconds in, Suzuki found Anderson sneaking to the back-side post. Actually, the pass was destined for Anderson but found Ivan Provorov’s stick as it was deflected into the net for Suzuki’s 19th of the season and a 3-0 Habs lead after two periods.
The Flyers came out flying to start the third period and were quickly rewarded when Owen Tippett, easily their best player on the night, gave them life and made it 3-1 only nine seconds into the period. No doubt it was a shot Allen would have loved to get a second chance on.
Philly was off to the races and the Habs were hanging on for the first five minutes of the period. Then, at the 6:26 mark, a quick point shot by Barron was tipped home by Ylonen and the Canadiens once again held a three-goal lead.
This goal was a gigantic dagger to the Flyers as they appeared defeated and started going through the motions. Meanwhile, Montreal smelled blood and this time pounced.
At the 12:12 mark, Anderson finally put home a goal after far too many missed chances. With the score now 5-1, the Habs now relaxed and spent the rest of the game defending. Provorov made it 5-2 with 90 seconds to play, but both teams were going through the motions by that point.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Mike Hoffman
It was recently reported that the phones were silent on Hoffman regarding this year’s deadline. With only one year remaining after this one, an inability to trade Hoffman isn’t the end of the world for the Habs. Hoffman always shows great promise when playing lower in the lineup and his power play prowess was never in question. Recently, his play would suggest that teams are likely wrong to not be trying to acquire Hoffman “on the cheap”, but who knows where that leads to in the next seven days.
Stats: 2 assists, +2, 3 shots, 1 hit, 14:53 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jesse Ylonen
Scored his first of the season and had himself a really strong game overall. Ylonen essentially has until the end of the season to prove he should be considered for a spot on the team come October 2023. He’ll need more games like tonight’s, but he certainly has the skill to make it happen.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 1 shot, 14:57 T.O.I.
3rd line – Chris Tierney
The first goal with his new team was really the second most important stat for the new pivot. A quick look at the stat line shows an 83% success rate in the faceoff circle and while that may not be repeated every night, it could prove to be an interesting aspect to his game should the Habs decide that they want to see more of this player beyond this season; however doubtful that may seem now.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 shot, 13:12 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Josh Anderson
There has been a long list of scoring chances over the last two games as Anderson uses his speed and finds the right areas on the ice for Suzuki to deliver pucks where he can do damage. He finally put one home, though the goal off Provorov’s stick would likely have been a second goal for the big and fast winger.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 5 shots, 15:22 T.O.I.