With the Habs off on Saturdays this round and playing on Sundays (thanks to NBC), our weekly recap column moves up a day as we look back at the first two games of the series against the Flyers as well as the short-term change behind the bench.
The Week That Was
Aug. 12: Flyers 2, Canadiens 1 – Neither team could score with the power play in the opening round (the round robin for Philadelphia) but both teams scored on their first power play of the series. Unfortunately for the Habs, after Shea Weber tied it up, the draw was short-lived as Joel Farabee potted what held up as the winner just 16 seconds later. It was a fairly even game overall and it felt like the Canadiens squandered a chance to get some early momentum with Carter Hart coming up strong when he needed to do so.
Aug. 14: Canadiens 5, Flyers 0 – Whether it was because of Claude Julien’s situation or not or whether they just came out hungry, the first period of this one may have been Montreal’s best in years. Tomas Tatar opened up the scoring just past the first minute and the Habs poured it on from there. Tatar and Jesperi Kotkaniemi each had a pair of goals while Joel Armia’s late goal in the second period chased Carter Hart. Flyers winger Travis Konecny left the game in the third after taking a shot off the ankle and did not return. His absence for any extended period of time would be notable after leading the team in scoring during the regular season.
Goals: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (4)
Assists: Byron/Domi/Gallagher (3)
Points: Shea Weber (5)
+/-: Shea Weber (+7)
PIMS: Xavier Ouellet (12)
Shots: Brendan Gallagher (28)
News And Notes
– Alex Belzile became the first player in franchise history to record his first NHL point in the playoffs at the age of 28 after assisting on Joel Armia’s goal in Game 2. He’s also only the second NHL skater since 1944 to do so.
– Jesperi Kotkaniemi is only the eighth player in franchise history to have at least three playoff goals before the age of 21. He’s at four which places him tied for fourth on that list with Henri Richard.
– Jake Evans returned to the lineup for Game 2 after missing time with a suspected concussion. Dale Weise was a healthy scratch as a result.
– Carey Price’s shutout in Game 2 moved him into sole possession of third place in franchise history with seven playoff shutouts. The record is 10 held by Ken Dryden and Jacques Plante.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Suzuki – Gallagher
Domi – Kotkaniemi – Drouin
Byron – Danault – Lehkonen
Belzile – Evans – Armia
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Ouellet – Mete
The Week Ahead
Following Sunday night’s contest, the lone back-to-back set of games will be on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday’s affair will be in the afternoon while Wednesday’s start time is to be determined. There are three games in Toronto that day so Wednesday’s Game 5 will either be another 3 PM EST start or the 8 PM timeslot. If necessary, the remaining two games are set for Friday and next Sunday.
There’s plenty of discussion about how this first trip through the postseason is a proving ground for several young Montreal players and it’s absolutely correct. However, Kirk Muller now finds himself in that same situation as the interim head coach until Claude Julien is able to return (and it’s great to hear that Julien’s procedure went well). This is his first trip through the playoffs as a head coach and even if it is short-lived, it’s something that is going to be on his coaching resume.
Muller’s first stint as a bench boss in the NHL was pretty underwhelming with Carolina and while there have been plenty of head coaching vacancies around the NHL since then, his name hasn’t really come up for those openings. At this stage, he seems like someone that’s destined to have a career as an associate coach. While that isn’t a bad way to make a living by any stretch, I’m sure he’d like another shot at an NHL head coaching position.
That’s hard to get in his position but with Julien out for a little while at least, Muller now has his chance at running the Habs for the time being. While Julien can still provide input, it’s ultimately Muller who will make the decisions in-game and he made the right ones in his maiden voyage. Even if it’s a short-lived stint at the helm (due to Julien’s return or Montreal’s elimination), how the team performs could be what gets him back on the radar for jobs elsewhere or, if things go badly, cement his future as an associate coach. That’s a lot of pressure but hey, it’s the playoffs; there’s pressure on everyone. Muller may not be a raw rookie like Nick Suzuki but like it is for the youngsters and playoff first-timers, it’s a proving ground for him just the same.