Now that the Stanley Cup Qualifying Rounds have come to an end, we can now shift our focus to the quest for hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup. This matchup of the Philadelphia Flyers vs Montreal Canadiens is probably the most surprising match up entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It features the team who enter the play-in rounds as the 24th seed, Montreal Canadiens, who will now serve as the 8th seed following a four-game upset over the Pittsburgh Penguins. They will face off against the Philadelphia Flyers, which is also surprising considering they entered round-robin play as the fourth seed and propelled themselves to having home-ice advantage up until the Stanley Cup Finals as they went 3-0 in the round-robin.
Philadelphia Flyers vs Montreal Canadiens
One of the biggest storylines of this match-up will be the battle between Carey Price and Carter Hart. Both goaltenders were outstanding during the qualifying rounds/round-robin series. Price, who was the Canadiens’ best player in the play-in series posted a 3-1 record helping the Canadiens eliminated the Penguins in four games. He posted an outstanding 1.67 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage while also recording a shut out. Price turned back the clock and looked like the goaltender who won the Hart, Vezina, William M. Jennings and Ted Lindsay trophies back in the 2014-15 season. He will need to continue to put on brilliant performances much as he did in the play-in series if the Canadiens want to have any chance of continuing their quest for the Stanley Cup.
For his part, Carter Hart was equally as impressive. While only playing in two games as opposed to the four Price played in, Hart posted a 2-0 record with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage. It will be Hart’s first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, if you’re expecting there to be some nervous feelings surrounding the goaltender you can forget, Hart is known for his calm, cool and collected approach and surely it will just be another day in the office for the young netminder. However, staring down arguably the best goaltender on the planet has to at least be intimidating.
Canadiens Power Play Woes Continue
One of the biggest question marks coming into the play-in series was if the Canadiens would be able to get their power play going. The answer was no. The Canadiens never scored a single power-play goal during the four games they played against the Penguins going 0-12. If they can’t find a way to get it going against the Flyers they’re going to be in trouble. While the Canadiens are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to 5v5 play, they can’t expect to go on a lengthy playoff run without having effective special teams.
The issue for the Canadiens is they are a one-trick pony. Get the puck to Weber. The Flyers ranked 11th overall in penalty kill percentage during the regular season killing off 81.8 percent of the power plays they faced. The Habs will need to get more creative if they want to have any chance of beating the Flyers.
For what it’s worth, the Flyers put up a goose egg in the powerplay department as well during the round-robin. However, they converted on almost 21% of their powerplays during the regular season. They will most likely find a way to get on the board during this series.
In terms of depth, both teams like to roll four lines. They both having scoring options throughout their lineup with both clubs having six players scoring over 40 points this season. The Flyers, however, have more star power. Names like Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek all scored 50 plus this past season, with Konecny leading the way with 61. The Canadiens will have a hard time matching the offensive output of the Flyers team that finished seventh overall in goals for this season. Not only do the big names score but role players like Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel will have to be watched closely as well. Laughton lead the team in scoring during round-robin play with three goals and two assists in three games.
Fortunately for the Canadiens, they can slow down the scoring with the strong defensive-minded forwards they have throughout their lineup. Players like Artturi Lehkonen, Joel Armia, Nick Suzuki, Phillip Danault and Paul Byron all possess strong two-way games. They did a fantastic job shutting down elite centres in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the play-in series. However, the Flyers are a deeper team and will be an even bigger test for the Habs than the Penguins were.
The Canadiens will hope that young guns Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi can continue their strong play. Expect Brendan Gallagher and Max Domi to get going as well. They could certainly utilize their in your face style of play against an aggressive Flyers team.
This is where we could see the biggest difference between the two teams. The Canadiens defence played outstanding against the Penguins, however, the relied heavily on “The Big Three”. Shea Weber and Jeff Petry played almost 26 minutes per game while Ben Chiarot averaged 24:35 minutes of ice time. Brett Kulak was the next most used defenceman with 19:11 minutes per game but both Victor Mete and Xavier Ouellet averaged under 15 per game. That could be the difference in the series. The Habs leaning heavily on the top two pairings, especially “The Big Three” could wear them out quickly given the Flyers’ aggressive style of play. They’ll want to try to spread the minutes a little more if possible to keep their legs fresh through the longer series.
Which is how the Flyers run things. Ivan Provorov lead the way during the round-robin with 25:09 minutes of ice time. Matt Niskanen played just over 22 minutes and everyone else fell between 15 to 20 minutes. They utilized seven defenders during the round-robin all of which played more minutes than both Xavier Ouelett and Victor Mete. The timeshare will certainly continue outside of workhorse Provorov, keeping the legs fresh against the Canadiens. This is a huge benefit for the Flyers and could be a key factor in the series.
All things considered, there’s no reason to believe the Philadelphia Flyers vs Montreal Canadiens series won’t go the distance. With how stingy both goaltenders have been and how strong both teams have played defensively, we could be in for a low scoring and tightly contested series. This bodes well for the Canadiens. Those are the type of games coach Claude Julien love to have his team compete in. If the Canadiens can keep it as a more defensive contest rather than a high scoring affair, the Canadiens could very well pull off the upset. However, if the Flyers can find a way to get their powerplay going and can get pucks deep and wear out “The Big Three”, the Canadiens could be in trouble.
Despite being the underdog, it’s hard to bet against Carey Price when he is playing the way he is right now.
Canadiens in seven