The Philadelphia Flyers dropped Game 2 of their series against the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 5-0 on Friday and it was about as fun as it sounds. The Orange and Black had one of their worst starts to a game in a minute, seemingly couldn’t get (or necessarily deserve) a bounce, and then one of the club’s better players got hurt. There are still a lot of questions about what the hell happened in Game 2, but hopefully going through some of the tape we can see how the Flyers fell apart two days ago.
Tomas Tatar puts Montreal up early
With the Canadiens already establishing some time in the Flyers’ zone within the game’s first minute, Scott Laughton eventually bangs the puck off the glass and out into Montreal’s zone. Before getting off the ice for a line change Jeff Petry picks up the loose disc and fires it to Nick Suzuki at the Flyers’ blue line. Suzuki enters the zone and lobs the puck towards the front of the net in the hopes he’ll lead Brendan Gallagher, who was cutting between Phil Myers and Joel Farabee, right into an opportunity alone just outside the crease but his timing is a little off and Carter Hart directs the rubber into the right corner.
While pursuing the puck Gallagher positions himself as though he is about to embrace with Myers for a board battle, but once he gets to the puck he is able to backhand the puck along the boards to himself to gain leverage. With Gallagher gaining positioning on Myers, Sanheim goes from defending a possible centering pass to shading to the near post. As Gallagher protects the puck with his backhand below the goal line Farabee follows Suzuki as he cuts to the net to prevent a cross-ice dunk.
With Farabee going towards Suzuki Gallagher manages to backhand a puck on net from below the goal line that angles right out in front to Tatar.
- Gallagher deserves a lot of credit for this goal. He recognized that the Flyers had just completed a line change that forced Sanheim to stay with Suzuki high in the zone on the entry which forced Farabee into playing defense with Myers. Seeing that Gallagher drove the middle of the ice for a Suzuki pass that didn’t connect but started the entire scoring sequence. On top of that his craftiness in deciding to backhand the puck around himself to regain possession below the goal line with the ability to use his back to shield the puck is all him and he finished the play by somehow getting the puck on net to create the rebound for Tatar.
- All that being said the puck should have never gotten out of the corner. Myers has no control over the Flyers’ line changes and he can’t do anything about forwards’ coverage on the play, but he had an opportunity to just pin Gallagher against the boards there and wait to win a puck battle with Couturier in support. Gallagher’s decision to open us his left side while retrieving the puck causes Myers to hesitate for a second and throw his stick out to defend a possible pass towards the blue line. This play happened pretty quick and Gallagher’s approach to the puck probably threw Myers off, but he deserves some of the blame for not taking away his time and space in either the corner or below the goal line.
- Giroux and Sanheim are at fault here as well. When Gallagher and Myers went into the corner Couturier had support along the left wall and Farabee had coverage on the far post leaving Giroux near the top of the inside right circle in coverage. Tatar is able to get to the front of the net so easily because he flies in through the slot with nobody boxing him out. Tatar may have had a harder time scooping up that rebound too if Sanheim had positioned himself more in the slot than in Hart’s crease as he failed to prevent Gallagher from getting off a shot attempt and failed to take away a possible rebound destination for the Habs.
Kotkaniemi capitalizes on Flyers’ sloppiness
The play starts when Jesperi Kotkaniemi wins a neutral zone draw which leads to Jonathan Drouin dumping the puck into the Flyers’ zone. Hart goes behind the net to play the puck and turns it over after surveying his options thanks to pressure from Kotkaniemi.
The disc bounces around behind the net before Kotkaniemi grabs control and fires a centering pass with Hart still out of position, but the puck travels back to the point. Chiarot grabbed the loose hunk of rubber and slid it over to Weber.
The former Nashville Predator passed it down low to Drouin for a sneaky shot from along the right wall. Shayne Gostisbehere blocks the shot and the puck pops up in the air where Kotkaniemi is able to bat it back up while Gostisbehere is waiting to see where it lands on the ice, which leads to Max Domi swooping in to catch the puck in the air to keep possession with the Habs.
As Domi comes down with the puck, Justin Braun leaves his position in front of the net and chases Domi into the corner while Gostisbehere stays with Kotkaniemi in front. With Couturier already covering Domi the former Arizona Coyote gets the puck to Drouin in the slot, who had found a soft area in coverage behind Giroux and Farabee. When Drouin receives the puck he has his back to the net with Gostisbehere left attempting to cover both him and Kotkaniemi in the crease as Braun tries to get back in the play. As Braun tries to steal the puck from him and Gostisbehere drops to his knees behind him, Drouin is able to hook a shot around both defenders to create a rebound for Kotkaniemi who puts home a rather easy one.
- In what is becoming a theme of this postseason this goal has a lot to do with Braun’s issues out there but it’s his defensive partner that looks terrible at first glance. In the round robin the Robert Hagg-Braun tandem were on the ice for two goals against, both of which went off Hagg. Both times it was because Hagg was stuck in no-man’s land in front of the net trying to patch up a couple leaks Braun created earlier in the scoring sequence. Fast forward to yesterday’s game and Braun flies into the corner on this goal and fails to help prevent the centering pass, which left Gostisbehere in front of the net to cover both Drouin and Kotkaniemi. Teams have been able produce on cycles where they may have not otherwise thanks to Braun losing his positioning in the middle of defending a cycle against.
- Gostisbehere isn’t absolved here. He was unlucky after he blocked Drouin’s shot only to have Kotkaniemi somehow play keep up with the puck before it got to Domi, but he failed to take out either Drouin or Kotkaniemi once the puck got to the front of the net. Again he wasn’t to blame for being in that position in the first place, but he failed to knock Drouin off the puck, keep Drouin’s puck from getting to the net, and failed to box out Kotkaniemi. I still think Braun should have stayed in front of the net rather than fly into Gostisbehere’s corner after Domi kept possession for the Habs, but an argument could be made that Braun only went into the corner because of Gostisbehere’s delayed reaction after blocking the shot. With that being said Couturier was in the corner with Domi and there was no real need to zoom out there to leave two Canadiens against one Flyer in front.
- He may have not received a lot of help on his four goals against yesterday, but Hart didn’t help himself on this particular tally as his stickhandling started the sequence. There isn’t much to complain about when it comes to Hart’s game, but his stickhandling is definitely an area that needs to improve. The play should have never resulted in a goal against, but Hart’s stickhandling has definitely put the Flyers in a vulnerable position before.
Tatar pots his second to make it a three-goal game
As the Flyers are trying to kill off the rest of Gostisbehere’s penalty from the first period Tatar flies through the neutral zone and dishes it to Kotkaniemi on the left wall who enters Philly’s zone with possession before he wraps the puck around to Domi in the right corner.
Domi works his way along the left boards before maneuvering into the right circle to finesse a pass to Joel Armia between Myers and Nate Thompson. Pitlick is able to collapse in time to get a stick on Armia’s attempt which forces the puck into the left corner for a retrieval by Tatar.
He wraps it back around the left wall to Domi, who backhands a pass below the goal line to Kotkaniemi. The third overall pick in 2018 bobbled the puck and had it nearly taken away from him by Braun but managed to give the biscuit back to Domi.
As Domi passes it back to Victor Mete at the right point Pitlick plants himself in the slot and boxes out Armia. Thompson floats out to the point to challenge Mete, who glides the puck over to Tatar for a snipe from to the top of the left circle that rings off the far post and in.
- Pitlick’s decision to set up in the slot as the puck is circling around the zone helped this goal happen. Armia gliding towards the net while facing the neutral zone may have led Pitlick to believe Mete was about to try a point shot which is why he may have planted and given Armia a shove. The decision allowed Mete’s pass over to Tatar and gave the forward time to walk into a nice position to shoot while Thompson and Braun were left attempting to cover the time and space created by Pitlick’s tie-up. Penalty-killing forwards often change coverage high in the zone as opposing power plays try to create space with forwards off the puck so Thompson could have clamped down on Tatar a bit more, but Pitlick should have still been in a better position. Braun screened Hart on the play as well, but he was trying to get in the way of a wide-open shot in the slot on a chance that he didn’t create.
- Along with Pitlick’s lapse in coverage the goal was created thanks to another board battle the defense should have had and won. When Kotkaniemi bobbled the puck behind the net Braun and Sanheim had the opportunity to pin Kotkaniemi to the boards and get the disc out of the zone. Braun and Kotkaniemi were battling for the puck when Sanheim unsuccessfully tried to pin the Canadiens’ forward to the boards, which allowed him to get the puck back to Domi to start the passing sequence that led to Tatar’s tally. Unlike Gallagher’s play on Myers in the corner, Kotkaniemi’s ability to come away with the puck was just his ability to stay with it. The Canadiens’ speed has hurt Philly in this series, but two of the first three goals on Friday don’t happen with a pin of a Montreal forward in the d zone.
Armia ends Hart’s day
Let’s start this sequence after the line of Farabee-Thompson-Pitlick and the pair of Gostisbehere-Braun had just given up a scoring chance to Arturri Lehkonen in the slot, but the Canadien’s shot goes wide of the net. Pitlick picks up the loose puck behind Hart’s net and swings it back behind the cage when Phillip Danault follows him along the goal line. Gostisbehere picks up the disc and starts to go left-to-right behind the net before he spins back around to try to avoid Lehkonen, but instead is cut off by the forward which results in Braun getting the puck.
Braun throws the puck up the boards to Pitlick, but Jake Evans is able to dart across Philly’s blue line to intercept the outlet pass. Evans whacks the hunk of rubber back to Paul Byron, who finds Lehkonen cross ice.
Lehkonen’s backhander goes wide of the net and back into the left corner. Thompson is the first to the puck and tries to move it to Pitlick up the wall, but Evans is able to get a stick on the try to knock it down.
Farabee picks up the puck from there and gives it to Pitlick in the neutral zone, but Alex Belzile is all over Pitlick to get Montreal possession again. Evans gets involved for a third time in the play and flips the puck into the Flyers’ zone for Armia.
Since Braun stood at the blue line and tried to bat the puck out of midair, he was turned around once he missed and had to focus on staying even with Armia as he flew down the left wing. Armia then hits the brakes to create space between him and Braun (and Braun gives him a little extra space with the puck) before he throws a centering pass to the slot with Gostisbehere set up in front while both Evans and Belzile crashed the net. The puck bounces off Gostisbehere’s skate while in a passing lane and goes five-hole on Hart.
- Here’s the second goal where Braun’s mistakes look like Gostisbehere’s fault. Again Gostisbehere isn’t completely absolved on the goal against (he had issues handling a zone exit with the puck and nearly handed it to Lehkonen behind the net early on in the sequence), but to pin this on Gostisbehere for breaking up a centering pass while defending two different passing lanes without looking at the rest of the play is a little unfair. It’s similar to Chris Wagner’s goal in the Flyers’ win over the Boston Bruins in the round robin when the puck went in off Hagg in front, but Hagg was caught defending a possible cross-ice dunk or Wagner driving hard to the net from below the goal line because Braun was out of position. Since it’s now happened a few times to Braun’s partners and not just one of Hagg or Gostisbehere perhaps there should be more talk about what the defense might look like if Braun sat a game.
- Evans’ takeaway at the blue line in front of Pitlick is another example of a play that we shouldn’t be seeing moving forward. Evans’ speed helped him to break up that pass, but Pitlick also assumed there was no chance the pass could be picked off and didn’t turn to shield Evans away from the puck so he could catch it along the wall at the blue line. He knew Evans was coming and hoped he could knock the puck away from the Habs’ forward rather than make sure he earned possession by shielding Evans from the puck. There seemed to be a lot of little things like this in Friday’s loss that indicate that Montreal’s speed is something the Flyers aren’t used to yet rather than Alain Vigneault’s gameplan won’t have an answer for the Canadiens’ quickness.
Kotkaniemi caps off a fun day for Flyers’ fans
With Derek Grant in the penalty box the Canadiens are in the middle of a power play when Mete streaks through the neutral zone and passes it to Kotkaniemi for an entry at the left point. Mete’s pass to Kotkaniemi hits Matt Niskanen’s stick in such a way it forces Niskanen to lose his twig, which makes Kotkaniemi’s pass back to Domi at the left point a little easier. Kevin Hayes is able to knock Domi down to the ice.
Niskanen comes over to offer a hit as well, but the Canadiens provide enough support on the play for Tatar to come away with the biscuit. As Tatar passes it back to Domi at the point Laughton gives Niskanen his stick. Domi then slides it over to Mete at the right point.
The D-man recognized Laughton no longer had a stick and tried to fire a pass to Armia in the slot. Laughton is able to break up the pass and the puck goes right to Ivan Provorov who either doesn’t know Laughton didn’t have his stick or wasn’t thinking as he slid the puck right back over to the 2012 draft pick. Laughton is met at the blue line by Domi and struggles to get the puck out of the zone, but manages to get the puck past the blue line.
As Mete recovers the puck in the neutral zone and Hayes follows in pursuit, both Laughton and Niskanen head to the bench with Couturier and Sanheim jumping over the boards. Mete gives it to Domi for the zone entry, who is met at the blue line by Provorov (who is floating high in the zone because of the line change) while both Kotkaniemi and Tatar drive the middle of the ice. Domi cuts in at the blue line and feathers a pass past Provorov to Kotkaniemi, who curls into the slot for a Tatar pick on Sanheim to allow him to snipe one past Brian Elliott.
- Niskanen losing his stick on the zone entry created this whole mess. He could have just broken up Mete’s original pass to Kotkaniemi in the neutral zone and the Canadiens would have never been in the zone to start. However since he lost his stick he wasn’t able to get the puck after Hayes knocked Domi to the ice and it led to Laughton being asked to clear the zone with his skates since he gave his stick to Niskanen. Provorov’s decision to touch it back to Laughton rather than just launching it down the ice also hurt since the play is probably deescalated if the Orange and Black just get the puck into Montreal’s zone and they don’t have a chance to catch Philly in a line change. This goal just summarizes Friday’s game: the Canadiens might deserve more respect than most are giving them, but it’s not like the Flyers have been playing flawlessly.
- It doesn’t help that Tatar got away with a pick on Sanheim to create space on Kotkaniemi’s shot. It’s not the reason why Montreal scored and I’m not looking for the refs to reach for a call to bail out the Flyers after they tripped over their own feet for a minute leading up to the goal, but it is just another play to highlight the Canadiens’ success at doing The Little Things in Game 2.
*All clips courtesy of NHL.com