While the NHL season comes to the end stretch there are teams who are assessing their position and others who are licking their wounds, or doing both. The Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens are two of these kinds of teams who are not sure what they their playoff future will be. They find themselves nearing a crossroads as the NHL trade deadline draws closer.
What happens Friday night will probably determine how these teams see themselves and their foibles, and how they might want to remedy that. That’s why experts are saying the matchup between the two will have a significant influence on the approach each team takes over the upcoming week.
As of right now, both teams are on the outside looking in of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both are not far out of a playoff spot but playing catch up is not a good position to be when getting points now are so tough to secure. This makes the next stretch of games very critical for each team. Only two points separate the squads in the standings, but Philadelphia with 25-21-10 have two games in hand, in addition to a tiny lead.
Many hockey experts think that the Flyers are the team more likely to make a solid postseason run after they broke out of an offensive funk in Tuesday’s 6-3 win in New Jersey. Especially since the Devils are one of several teams they’re chasing for a wildcard spot. After only getting two goals in weekend losses to the Devils and New York Rangers, they were able to score four times in the third period to break a tight 2-all tie.
“We’re not satisfied until we’re in the playoffs,” said Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who scored the go-ahead goal with 7:38 left and added an assist. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. This is a step forward. We just have to build on it and continue to push forward.”
Montreal who has a 27-27-4 record looks like it’s closer to a fire sale and self destruction as it continues its free fall to the bottom. After the Canadiens lost to the Colorado Avalanche last night in a close game where even an over time point was crucial, Canadiens Coach Michel Therrien critisized their best defenseman, P.K. Subban for making a selfish play that lost them the puck in the last two minutes which allowed the Avalanche to score the game winning goal and end the chances of the Canadiends getting to OT.
After being atop the NHL in points after the season’s first two months, the Canadiens have literally gone a league-worst 8-23-1 since Dec. 3 since they were not able to overcome the injury their goaltender and reigning Hart Trophy winner Carey Price suffered which was most likely a season-ending knee injury.
The Canadiens have tried hard to reverse their fortunes with three consecutive home wins from Feb. 6-9 earlier this month, but then it all imploded as they allowed 15 goals over an 0-3-0 road trip that ended with Wednesday’s 3-2 loss in Colorado.
For Montreal fans it was a tough game to watch as they had a 2-1 lead in the second period before giving up two goals to Jarome Iginla, the winner coming with 2:03 remaining in the game after Subban’s skate caught an edge while making a fancy play, and he lost the puck.
“There were a lot of broken plays in the third, but there were some encouraging things in the second period. I think we can build on this,” center Lars Eller said. “Hopefully we can build some more chemistry together back home. I think it was a step in the right direction for us as a team compared to last game in Phoenix (a 6-2 loss), for sure.”
Their current No. 1 goaltender, Ben Scrivens made 25 saves in an improvement from his last outing, when he gave up three goals on eight shots before being removed early in the second period of last Friday’s 6-4 loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Since then the losses have been mounting up.
But the Flyers have also had some tough losses, losing three straight in Montreal. But they have beaten the Canadiens twice this season at home, including a 4-2 win on Feb. 2 behind Simmons’ two goals and goalie Steve Mason’s 30 saves.
Simmonds is playing great as he has nine goals in his last 11 games and Brayden Schenn, who posted a goal and two assists Tuesday, has seven goals over a 12-game stretch. So this pair should be dangerous for a limping and discouraged Canadiens team.
Flyers’ Shayne Gostisbehere got a goal Tuesday too, to extend his point streak to 13 games, which is the longest streak by a rookie defenseman in NHL history. The 22-year-old has 16 points over the run. So he should be flying. Gostisbehere had a goal and assist and Schenn recorded three points in Philadelphia’s 4-3 win over Montreal on Jan. 5. So they know where Montreal’s soft spots are.
After such a disappointing loss to the Avalanche, Montreal at home should be facing the pressure to win against some of the most knowledgeable and rowdy fans in the NHL. It probably will be too much, and Philly should be able to walk in and make a show of it.