Montreal Canadiens vs. Philadelphia Flyers @ Bell Centre – October 26, 2011

Many athletes will say that it is a dangerous thing to play a desperate team.  Before their game versus the Philadelphia Flyers, if you looked up the word desperate in the dictionary the entire Montreal Canadiens organization’s picture would be there.  Despite this, going into the game I was doubtful that the team that had played so poorly and had trouble scoring more than 1 goal per game would end their losing streak (at 6 games) against the mighty Flyers.

The Philadelphia Flyers have been strong for several years now.  They even made it to the Stanley Cup Finals two seasons ago losing out to the Chicago Black Hawks.  They were very close, but their usual weakness – in nets – proved to be their undoing time and time again.  Over the summer Flyers GM Paul Holmgren seemed to solve that problem by signing free agent Ilya Bryzgalov to a big contract.  He didn’t stop there in a couple of shocking moves in that he traded away captain Mike Richards (Los Angeles Kings) and winger Jeff Carter (Columbus Blue Jackets).  The Flyers are certainly a different looking team from last season.  Gone are Richards, Carter, Mike Leighton, Darroll Powe, Brian Boucher, Daniel Carcillo, Kris Versteeg, and Nilolai Zherdev.  Holmgren has added via free agent signing or trade the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Andreas Lilja, Braydon Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, Maxime Talbot, Bryzgalov, and Jakub Voracek.

Before the game there were two surprises from the home side: 1) A Montreal Canadiens coach got fired yesterday and it wasn’t Jacques Martin, whose head the fans have been calling for.  Assistant coach Perry Pearn was fired sometime in the afternoon.  Pearn has been with the team several years as an assistant and this year was working with the defence and special teams.  Both these departments were doing poorly (to say the least) this season.  Now, Pearn is not the reason the Canadiens were losing.  I’m not delusional.  I know he was a sacrificial lamb.  It was just weird timing so close to game time. 2) Max Pacioretty had suffered a suspected wrist injury in the 2nd period of the Florida game and while it wasn’t broken the rumour was that he had ligament damage.  To everyone’s surprise he practiced in Brossard Wednesday morning and then took the warm-up with the team.  After that he declared himself well enough to play.  The guy obviously has a high pain tolerance and his presence, in whatever form, would give a boost to his teammates.

The Flyers would be missing their new captain, Chris Pronger, who had suffered an eye injury on Monday night when Toronto’s Mikael Grabovski’s stick struck him.  Pronger is important to his team as their record last season without him wasn’t the greatest.  But Philadelphia is a deep team, so missing one player shouldn’t make that much of a difference.  They are a young team, but have surrounded them with a couple of good veterans.  Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was looking for his first career victory against the Habs as when he was with the Phoenix Coyotes he was 0-3.

This game was the first in a series of 3 games in four nights for the Habs (Flyers and home and away vs. Bruins).  There was a good temp to the beginning of the game with not many stoppages in play.  Both teams had early power plays with the Flyers coming the closest hitting the post twice (Daniel Briere and Kimmo Timonen) while Lars Eller was sitting in the box.

Martin juggled his lines a bit.  He separated Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec.  Plekanec was now playing with Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty.  Cammalleri was playing with David Desharnais and Eric Cole.  Early on you could tell that Cole was there to play.  He was showing some good speed through the neutral zone and demonstrating signs of being the player the Habs wanted when they signed him.

At the 10:43 mark of the 1st period the shoulders of the Habs fans and players must have slumped a little when Philadelphia scored the game’s first goal.  The rejuvenated Jagr was left alone to the left of goaltender Carey Price and he was spotted by Matt Carle.  He just one-timed the puck past a helpless Price for a 1-0 Flyer lead.

Philadelphia really began to dominate and pile up the scoring chances after opening the scoring.  Montreal was running around and looked overwhelmed.  Newly acquired defenceman Andreas Lilja gave the home fans some hope when he was assessed an interference penalty with just over two minutes left in the first frame.  The power play looked to be going nowhere fast when suddenly a Flyer breakdown led to Desharnais having the puck on his stick and alertly he found Yanick Weber alone in the high slot and he wired the puck past Bryzgalov.  Some hope.

The late power play goal seemed to do plenty for the Canadiens self-confidence as they began to take the game to the Flyers as soon as the 2nd period started.  Flyers coach Peter Laviolette felt it too and called a time out just 4:30 minutes into the period to give his team a talking to.  It didn’t seem to work as the Habs continued to take the play to the Flyers.  This effort turned into a somewhat fluky goal for them as a puck bounced off the leg of Andrei Kostitsyn while he was crashing the net.  Fluky yes.  A goal yes.  A goal because a Habs player was showing he was willing to go into the area in front of the net and pay the price, yes!!

From that point on (10:26 of 2nd period) the Habs were in complete control of the game.  It was a total team effort with everyone contributing.  The penalty killers did not allow the Flyers to score.  Carey Price made the big saves when he had to with none being more important than the one he made on James Van Riemsdyk on a breakaway at the beginning of the 3rd period with the score 3-1 (Pacioretty scored in the 2nd).  Habs centres won 59% of the faceoffs (an area they had struggled in) over the first two periods.  The 4th line of Mike Blunden-Petteri Nokelainen-Mathieu Darche played some important minutes.  They were clicking.  Finally!

Pacioretty scored his second of the game (not bad for a guy with a damaged wrist) and Cammalleri rounded out the scoring at 15:36 of the 3rd period with his 3rd goal of the season.  Five straight goals by Montreal after Philadelphia scored first.  The na-na-na-nas started after the 5th Canadiens’ goal.  It was a long time we hadn’t heard the fans singing at the Bell Centre.  Carey Price finally won his 100th game after five tries.  He is the 12th goalie with the team to win 100 games.

It is crazy how fast things can change.  Pacioretty wasn’t supposed to play and ends up not only playing, but getting 3 points.  A team without hope (1st win in 7 games) is suddenly feeling a little bit better about itself after beating one of the league’s strongest teams.

After the game Montreal was traveling overnight to Boston to play the Bruins on Thursday night.  They will play them again at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.

Game Stats:

On-Ice Officials:  Referees:  Chris Lee and Ghislaine Hebert

                       Linesmen:  Lonnie Cameron and Steve Miller

-Goals:  1st Period:

10:43: Philadelphia – Jaromir Jagr assisted by Scott Hartnell and Matt Carle

19:57: Montreal – (pp) Yanick Weber assisted by David Desharnais

2nd Period:

10:26: Montreal – Andrei Kostitsyn assisted by Jaroslav Spacek and Max Pacioretty

12:38: Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by PK Subban and Josh Gorges

3rd Period:

3:16: Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by Tomas Plekanac and Josh Gorges

15:36: Montreal – Michael Cammalleri assisted by David Desharnais and Eric Cole

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal: 28

                      Philadelphia:  22

-3 Stars:  1)  Max Pacioretty – Montreal

             2)  Carey Price – Montreal

             3)  Eric Cole – Montreal

-Attendance:  21,273

-Final Score:  Montreal:  5

                  Philadelphia:  1

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