A thrilling win vs. Pittsburgh helped drown the negative feelings after the back-to-back losses suffered to Washington and Toronto, but now comes another big game. This time, the Flyers take on the Montreal Canadiens, the team directly ahead of them in the wild card chase. Just three point separate the two teams, and with a loss from Columbus in Calgary, the Flyers could very well just be four points out again in the playoff race.
Montreal has been one of the surprises of the Eastern Conference this season, with many assuming they’d be dead in the water and one of the bottom feeders of the conference, having shelled out so many of their best players over the past few offseasons. The likes of Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, and Jonathan Drouin have really carried the load for them offensively. The biggest piece for the Habs though is of course their goaltender Carey Price, who although hasn’t posted incredible numbers, has bounced back from last season with a .915 save percentage.
For the Flyers it appears as though Carter Hart will make his second consecutive start, coming off a sensational performance vs. Pittsburgh in which he made 41 saves on 42 shots. This will be Hart’s third start vs. Montreal, but hopefully his second full game AGAINST THEM. In his second start, he allowed three goals on nine shots, and was pulled for Brian Elliott. This time, hopefully from a hockey fan perspective, we get to see the Hart vs. Price duel in its entirety. From a Flyers fan perspective however, give me the goalie with the (/checks notes) 3.87 goals against average and the (/falls over in chair) .887 save percentage in Antti Niemi.
1. Montreal plays fast, don’t let them
This was essentially the same key from the Toronto game, but it still applies. Granted, Montreal has a far less talented team than the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that doesn’t change the fact that Montreal’s game is built on speed and the Flyers have to be ready for it. They handled Toronto’s speed pretty well in the first period, and then the wheels fell off as the game went on. If the Flyers can keep Montreal’s speed in check and shut down the few major offensive threats they have, this should be a walk in the park for the orange and black, especially if Price does not start.
The last time the Flyers played the Habs however, they were handed a 5-1 loss in Montreal. Hart, as mentioned previously, struggled early and the Flyers never really found their footing. Opening strong tonight will be huge for Hart and the Flyers confidence in general.
2. Limit their high quality chances
Montreal has surprisingly been one of the better shot quality teams in the league this season. along with their overall great possession numbers. They post the fifth best scoring chances-for (SCF) in the league just behind the Minnesota Wild, Carolina Hurricanes, San Jose Sharks, and Vegas Golden Knights. They’re also fifth best in high danger chances-for (HDCF). With a little better goaltending, it’s kind of crazy to imagine how high up in the standings Montreal might be, adding onto an already ridiculous Atlantic Division.
According to hockeyviz, Montreal’s threat percentage in shots attempted at 5-on-5 is a 10 percent; BY comparison, the Flyers sit at a minus four percent. Surprisingly enough, Montreal’s threat percentage is actually one percent higher than the already-locked President’s Trophy winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the Flyers, keeping Montreal out of the high-percentage areas is going to be key tonight, and could go a long way to helping them secure the win.
3. Make this one a little easier on Hart, would ya?
Carter Hart was amazing vs. Pittsburgh, but it would be nice if he didn’t have to be that amazing. Hart faced a barrage of shots in the second period and faced some chances that on most goalies are sure fire goals, but Hart was up to the task. Tonight the goal should be to play better in front of him and limit the amount of work he has to do in net for the Flyers, especially in just his third game back returning from injury. It’s nice to have a goalie that the players do trust back there to bail them out at times, but the end goal should still of course to not have him bail you out.
Montreal is a sneaky difficult team to play against, but the Flyers need to be ready for the kind of high intensity that Montreal plays with.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Lindblom — Couturier — Voracek
JVR — Patrick — Giroux
Raffl — Laughton — Konecny
Varone — Knight — Hartman
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — Myers
Hagg — Gudas