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Preview: Flyers face the slumping Canadiens in Montreal tonight

The Flyers will play in Montreal tonight amidst COVID cancellations and shortened benches around the league

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NHL: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams in flux, teams whose franchise trajectory has felt similar recently, will meet tonight in Montreal. A Flyers squad led by an interim head coach will cross the border to take on a Canadiens team—one of the few below them in the standings—without a general manager.

Philly is riding high on a season-best three-game win streak, having finally escaped the clutches of a brutal November schedule and a franchise-worst 10-game losing streak; meanwhile, the Canadiens entire 6-20-3 season feels like one big losing streak. They have the longest active losing streak in the NHL, having lost seven in a row and 13 of their last 15 (and 24 of their last 30, you get it.) For a team that lost the Stanley Cup in five games this July, it’s as swift a fall from grace as you can get. With captain Shea Weber missing, presumed retired, franchise goalie Carey Price on a mental health leave of absence, and star prospect Cole Caufield getting bounced back to the AHL at least once, the Canadiens are in last place in the Eastern Conference and fired their very muscular GM just over two weeks ago.

Whether or not it’s desirable for the macro-direction of the franchise as a whole, the Flyers, with their three-game streak, are slowly climbing back towards the respectable middle of the pack by most measures—out of the bottom five in points percentage, even strength Corsi for percentage and shots for percentage, and just one win away from the NHL’s version of .500 at 11-12-4. Carter Hart will be in net for the Flyers and we’re hoping he can get some wins in reward for taking some serious beatings in November.

It’ll likely be Jake Allen across the rink from Hart, having a statistical season that matches the Canadiens’ last place position: 5-15-2, the most goals against in the league, and a .903 save percentage. With the unexpected absence of Price, the Canadiens haven’t had many options but to keep leaning on Allen over and over again. If the Flyers plan to make 10-game losing streaks in seasons where the ultimately make the playoffs a recurring thing, they need to make good on games like this one (and Saturday’s against Ottawa) where they are playing a clearly inferior opponent.

Flyers projected lines:

Scott Laughton—Sean Couturier—Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom—Claude Giroux—Cam Atkinson
James van Riemsdyk—Kevin Hayes—Max Willman
Jackson Cates—Patrick Brown—Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov—Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim—Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle—Kevin Connauton

Carter Hart
(Martin Jones)

Canadiens projected lines:

Meahtieu Perreault—Nick Suzuki—Mike Hoffman
Jonathan Drouin—Laurent Dauphin—Jesse Ylönen
Artturi Lehkonen—Ryan Poehling—Cole Caufield
Michael Pezzetta—Cedric Paquette—Joel Armia

Ben Chiarot—David Savard
Alexander Romanov—Jeff Petry
Brett Kulak—Kyle Clague

Jake Allen
(Sam Montembeault)

Keep an eye on:

  • Cam Atkinson, who, following his hat trick on Tuesday, is now leading the team in goals, shots, and plus/minus. While we all know that goal scorers are streaky, Atkinson mostly held even in most on-ice statistics during the 10-game losing streak and even scored twice during what felt like a goal-less stretch of time. He now sits at 12 goals on the season, putting him in position to pass his totals from each of the previous two seasons (15 in 2020-21 and 12 in 2019-20) pretty soon. He’s on pace for 36 goals over an 82-game season.
  • Artturi Lehkonen, who is leading all Montreal forwards in play-driving statistics, coming out positive in even strength Corsi, Fenwick, shots for, and even expected goals — which is no small feat on a team that’s being outscored by 25 and outshot by 86 at even strength (and 43 and 124 at all strengths). The 26-year-old Finnish winger has played in all 30 Montreal games and has accumulated 3 goals and 7 assists in his sixth season with the team.
  • Oskar Lindblom, who has bounced around in the lineup since Alain Vigneault’s firing. He played a few games on Mike Yeo’s top line, a few further down the lineup, and then replaced Morgan Frost on Giroux’s wing after Frost left the Devils game early and had a goal and an assist there. If those lines hold, Lindblom will have an opportunity to grab onto an expanded role with two of the team’s best (and hottest) offensive players right now.
  • Mike Hoffman, who I guess is on the Canadiens. If you offered me $100 and gave me 15 chances to name what team Mike Hoffman was on this season, neither of our bank accounts would feel the effect.
  • The Flyers power play, which has now scored on five of their last fourteen opportunities. A 35% power play over such a small sample size isn’t really noteworthy unless that same power play was hovering around 12% in its other opportunities throughout the season.
  • Anyone who is expected to play but doesn’t—or who is pulled out in the middle of the game for COVID protocol reasons, as Morgan Frost was on Tuesday, because this time they’re across the border. The team took tests upon arriving in Montreal and there seems to have been no positive tests, but per Charlie’s explainer yesterday, if a player tests positive while in Canada, it’ll be at least 14 days before they can cross the border back into the US.

Stray stats:

  • This will be the 200th game between the Flyers and the Canadiens franchises, going back to the Flyers’ inaugural season in 1967, when they beat the Canadiens 4-1 powered by a Leon Rochefort hat trick in just their ninth ever game. The Flyers are 78-83-30-7 (W-L-T-OTL) in the 198 games that followed, making the Canadiens just one of three teams that the Flyers are not at least .500 against. The Flyers are 35-47-14-4 in Montreal and 18-18-2-4 in the Bell Centre.
  • Carter Hart’s high danger save percentage now sits at .860, which is the fourth highest amongst goalies with at least 10 games played (which is approximately the required minimum for most teams right now). Hart escaped the losing streak and even some poor performances of his own with a .915 save percentage, .926 at even strength. Hart is, of course, still near the top of the league in shots per 60 minutes and high danger shots against per 60 minutes.
  • After scoring first in each of the last three games, the Flyers are now 9-2-3 when they score the first goal of the game, compared to 2-10-1 when they don’t. While the first period has not really been a problem for the Flyers this season—they’re actually outscoring and outshooting their opponents in the first period—their middle stanza performances is what hurts them the most. They are -14 in second period goals and -78 in second period shots.
  • The Flyers are now 3-1 in the Mike Yeo era, tying Scott Gordon for the most points through four games as a Flyers coach since Wayne Cashman took over at the start of the 1997-98 season following a Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Red Wings. The Flyers went 3-0-1 in Cashman’s first four and would go 32-20-9 before they demoted him to an assistant midseason and replaced him with Roger Neilson. Gordon finished the 2018-19 season with a 25-22-4 record and the Flyers missed the playoffs.

*All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-reference.com.

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