For the first time in 10 years, the Philadelphia Flyers took on the surprise Montreal Canadiens in a playoff matchup. Not only were the Canadiens the shocking victors against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round, but their overall game also seemed to surprise the Flyers throughout the contest.
Coming into this series, the Montreal Canadiens needed to play to a strict system and structure to be successful. Overall, they needed to:
- Cause chaos through shutting down the neutral zone
- Move the puck up the ice quickly before the Flyers could pressure the Canadiens’ defense
- Eliminate high danger scoring chances and allow Carey Price to do his thing
- Capitalize on high-danger scoring chances when given the opportunity
For much of the game, the Canadiens succeeded in these areas. They eluded the Flyers’ forecheck and caused mass chaos by causing turnovers in the neutral zone and neutralizing the cycle game down low. Montreal’s defense moved the puck up the ice quickly, preventing the Flyers’ strong puck pressure system to play to its strengths. Ultimately, Montreal had a ton of high danger scoring chances, in particular from the left side of the ice. Analytically speaking, Montreal had a higher rate of expected goals and in all accounts deserved to win this one.
However, the Flyers were able to rely on the strong play from a position that has been a thorn in the organization’s side for a while now: goaltending. The young phenom Carter Hart absolutely shined. In the midst of adversity for the first time in the postseason, the Flyers’ pulled out a Game 1 victory.
What Went Well for Flyers
- Carter Hart. Hart literally stole the game in this one, showing both his strong technical game and athleticism. Time after time, save by save, Hart ensured the Flyers were victorious regardless of how many shots he faced or just how dangerous they seemed. Hart outdueled his hero, Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price, in this one. Hart stole the show in the national spotlight and showed he is capable of holding down the fort when the Flyers need a boost.
- Victory Amidst Adversity. The Flyers have managed to avoid adversity for the majority of the postseason. They dominated the best teams in the East during the round robin and showed why they have been a team on the rise all year. However, this victory was far from dominant. The Canadiens gave them difficulty and played their overall game well. There were large chunks of time the Flyers’ offense struggled. Their typically dominant line of Konecny, Hayes, and Laughton struggled to produce much of anything for the majority of the game. However, even in the midst of frustration and difficulty, the Flyers were victorious. The jury is out as to whether momentum can truly carry from one game to the next, but if there is even a remote possibility that it can, look for the Flyers to come out flying with confidence in Game 2.
What Can Be Improved for Flyers
- Matt Niskanen. Niskanen had a tough night. He struggled to transition when being attacked by opposing forwards. He also had quite a few errant passes and giveaways at key moments. Niskanen has been a steady force this year, providing a strong, calm presence for young star Ivan Provorov on the back end. However, Provorov spent much of the night making up for Niskanen’s miscues. The Flyers need their top pairing firing on all cylinders and desperately need better play from Niskanen in Game 2.
- The Forecheck. The Flyers’ prototypical forecheck was off a bit on Wednesday night, and it showed. Many of the Flyers’ forced turnovers are caused by their relentless, four-line forecheck. Overall, it was lacking in this one. The Canadiens utilized their defensive strategy well, but the Flyers failed to transition on the fly and get creative with their forecheck. The Flyers will need to make some adjustments come Game 2 to better utilize their system to their advantage.
- Speed through the neutral zone. The Canadiens clogged up the neutral zone fairly well throughout this game, a noted strategy employed by Claude Julien rosters. Quick, short passes through the neutral zone often counter this strategy well, and usually, the Flyers are fairly good at this. However in Game 1, they struggled to transition and the Canadiens’ veteran blue-liners had a field day taking away space from attacking forwards. The Flyers will need to use their speed and some quick passes through the neutral zone to their advantage to set up in the offensive zone and provide more high-quality scoring opportunities.
- Carter Hart. Is there anything more to stay? Hart stole the game and lived up to the hype in this one.
- Joel Farabee. In a game when Flyers’ forwards struggled to forecheck well and create offense, Farabee found a way. He also managed to get under the Canadiens’ skin early on through tenacious forechecking and playing a strong physical game. He was the best Flyers’ forward in this one.
- Carey Price. Price made a number of key saves in this one, including a potential save of the year candidate on Scott Laughton in the second period. Price came as advertised and gave the Canadiens every opportunity to win.
Other Important Notes
- Shayne Gostisbhere found himself on the third defensive pairing after struggling to get back into the lineup after the season pause. He struggled at times with turnovers, but he provided another offensive weapon on the third-pairing and even in some limited power play time. He is far from a sure thing to dress in Game 2, but he may have helped his cause.
- The Flyers’ power play continued to struggle, as it has this postseason. At times, the first unit looked positionally lost tonight. JVR, who historically is great in front of the net on the power play, found himself floating around quite a bit. The Flyers need the power play to get rolling as it did during the regular season.