The Philadelphia Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 to take a two games to one lead in their first-round series. Here are some observations.
- From puck drop, the Flyers accorded themselves better in their attention to pace and defensive comportment. They seemed to play with better spirit, as well, which might be attributed to Oskar Lindblom’s first bubble practice following his cancer ordeal.
“I think the energy, you could feel it in the morning skate,” forward Jake Voracek said, “It was way better than in past games.”
Another part of that can be attributed to their lineup changes as forward Michael Raffl and defenseman Robert Hagg rejoined the lineup, replacing Joel Farabee and Shayne Gostisbehere respectively.
- Raffl was playing for the first time since his injury in the first round-robin game against the Boston Bruins and back in his role on the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Tyler Pitlick, which started the game. With the exception of a dangerous shift in their own end against the Jesperi Kotkaniemi line, that unit was defensively consistent throughout and that can be attributed in part to having Raffl’s size and own zone acumen.
- Hagg was a direct replacement for Gostisbehere who had played with Justin Braun for three games (final round-robin game vs Tampa Bay and the first two games of the Montreal series). The partnership of Gostisbehere and Braun had diminishing returns in each subsequent game, forcing Alain Vigneault to mix and match his second and third pairings, and concluded with an abysmal performance in the Flyers’ 5-0 loss.
Hagg picked up the second assist on Jake Voracek’s first-period goal, was active with his stickwork in clogging the Habs passing lanes, solid zone exit passing, and most notably his willingness to block shots. The other major effect? Vigneault was able to stay consistent with his defense pairings for most of the game. That kind of consistency is critical when protecting a one-goal lead.
- The Flyers top line carried the mail in this one, even if the scoring effect wasn’t as great as some might’ve hoped after Friday’s disaster. Giroux has several outstanding passes and seemed to be more locked in. Voracek consistently worked his way to the net to obstruct Carey Price’s vision and Sean Couturier won his battles with Phillip Danault’s unit with Paul Byron and Arturri Lehkonen. Advanced stats bore this out as the line had a nearly 67 percent Corsi-For, and an expected Goals-For of 90.88 percent.
- To put this succinctly, there was nothing pretty about Philadelphia’s victory. Vigneault opted for a heavier lineup with the intention of playing a grinder-style affair. In that respect, it was mission accomplished. Nothing exemplified that more than the Flyers blocking more shots (24) than Carter Hart had saves (23).
“I think both teams worked extremely hard,” Vigneault said. “It was hard to make offensive plays. Both teams were not giving each other a lot of room out on the ice. There weren’t a lot of lanes to get pucks through. Big shot blocks. I’m thinking of Kube (Nic Aube-Kubel) right now, had two huge shot blocks during this game. Guys are putting their bodies on the line. You got to grind these out. Sometimes you’ll get some of these, especially in the playoffs. Tonight, obviously there wasn’t a lot of room on the ice.”
The Flyers were committed to not allowing the Canadiens near the middle of the ice as Natural Stat Trick recording four high danger chances for them for the entire game (compared to the Flyers eight.) In short, the Flyers out-Habbed the Habs.
- The Flyers powerplay unit has become a real concern for them throughout the postseason. In reviewing the game, it’s become pretty obvious that it’s less what Montreal does with their penalty-killing unit that the form and execution for Philadelphia. After earning a four-minute double minor, the Flyers could barely muster a difficult challenge for Price. It’s not often I agree with Mike Milbury, but their umbrella formation was playing into the Canadiens favor.
“We’re going to make a couple of adjustments,” Vigneault said on Monday. “We were able to make Montreal take six penalties. I tend to believe we’re going to find a way to make it click. We’re going to come up with a plan.
Whether it’s (once again) shifting Giroux to the other wing, adjusting the formation, or be smarter in their passing and shooting decision-making, the Flyers had six power play opportunities go for naught, with maybe two of them generating any kind of serious danger. If you feel the need to put Derek Grant out there on the powerplay in the third period with a one-goal lead, the in-game answer list is at the end of the page.
- It was a rough evening for Scott Laughton defensively. Two dangerous turnovers in the game, the most egregious was his backhand pass to the middle of the ice that led to a massive Carter Hart stop on Jonathan Drouin that could’ve easily tied the game.
“It’s been real challenging for both teams to generate opportunities,” Vigneault said Maybe not getting the same looks. Scotty had a challenging game in the puck management department. He’s such a character individual, a character player that I’m very confident he’s going to bounce back with a much better game.”
- On a positive note, the Flyers did a better job of getting the Canadiens to take unnecessary penalties in this one, with the Hayes line drawing three by themselves (one by Konecny and other two by Hayes taking a stick in a sensitive area by Max Domi. It’s moments like that where you realize why Domi had been in Claude Julien’s doghouse this season, despite a nearly 80 point campaign in ’18-’19. It’s especially bad after having a three-assist game in Game Two. As The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor noted: the officials seem to be taking note of the Canadiens’ pick plays. If so, they’ll have to adjust in Game Four.
- James van Riemsdyk remained fairly invisible despite moving up to third line left wing (after playing fourth line in Games One and Two). Other than one burst into the offensive zone on a power-play where he was easily steered off by a Canadiens defenseman, #25 had little effect in the 9:36 of ice time allotted, of which 4:04 was on the power-play. They need much more from their $7 million per AAV forward. In short, I have to wonder if he draws out in Game Four for Farabee.
- Carter Hart outdueled Carey Price on the latter’s 33rd birthday. I don’t know if that’s going to lead to awkwardness the next time they see each other socially, but as in Game One, Hart was able to shut the door consistently in this one, most notably a big late game in-tight chance for Kotkaniemi. He became the youngest goalie in team history to earn a playoff shutout (22 years, 3 days old). After giving up four goals on 26 shots in the previous game, his performance wasn’t lost on Voracek.
“It’s a good thing that he’s a little too oblivious to some things as a goalie in Philadelphia,” Voracek said. “He’s really strong mentally. He’s a young kid that works really hard. He’s pretty impressive the way he bounces back, even since last year. If he had a bad game, he always came back and he was strong. I think that’s what good goalies do.”