Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens notch 3-1 win against Philadelphia Flyers
Andrew Shaw believes it’s Game 7 for the Montreal Canadiens in Philadelphia — but for the Flyers, it’s been Game 7 for two months.
The Flyers have been playing outstanding hockey, with the third-best record in the NHL since the All-Star break behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins. Philadelphia also closed the gap for the playoffs to only six points with 10 games to play in the season.
It’s still a far cry for Philadelphia to get to the post-season, but it’s getting to be a far cry for the Habs, too, as they are only three points up on the Flyers and three points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
This was a vital game for both clubs, but Montreal emerged victorious Tuesday night with a final score of 3-1.
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi showed us the future in the first period. He skated down the right side then cut hard to the left while protecting the puck perfectly. The defender was clearly beaten. Kotkaniemi then fired off a clean shot that Carter Hart had to be sharp on. What was striking about the play was how easy Kotkaniemi made it look — as in soon he will be doing it regularly. Kotkaniemi has slowed down recently, but he is going to be special. It’s only a matter of time.
- Brendan Gallagher has done it again. He has equalled his career best of 31 goals on the season. Gallagher once again scored from five feet out. It is remarkable how many goals he scores from in close. He does not even need a great shot; he only needs his usual Gallagher courage to be in the dirty areas.
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- Victor Mete is getting so comfortable that he is now directing traffic. While so many Habs have struggled in the last month, Mete is improving. His decision-making is excellent. It’s incredible how rarely he is outmuscled for the puck by a bigger man. Mete has been one of the few bright spots since the All-Star break. In his partnership with Shea Weber, it’s Mete who is the more solid rearguard.
- While first-pair defender Shea Weber has shown some fatigue, he continues to bring an impressive goal total. With a powerful slapshot in the second period, Weber counted his 12th goal of the season in only 49 games. That’s a 20-goal season. For a defenceman, that’s a total that can not be discounted just because he’s having the odd suspect shift, just as every other Habs player is.
- There are a number of others who were also strong in this game. Tomas Tatar never cheats on his effort. Artturi Lehkonen had his best game in a while. Brett Kulak had a night of great decisions. Max Domi’s ability to win the zone with possession is vital for the Habs to establish flow in the game. And then there is Carey Price: if the Habs aren’t able to earn a playoff spot, it sure isn’t on him.
- Absolutely none. Tuesday’s game was as gutsy an effort as you are going to see. The Flyers’ entire season was on the line, and the Habs won 3-1 in a building that has been a graveyard. The push for a playoff spot is not over yet.
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- The Habs’ swoon has certainly put some anxiety into the future of Ryan Poehling as a Canadiens player. Montreal has the rights to Poehling until next summer. His impetus for signing this season is to have the opportunity to play for the Habs this year, as that would push his contract service up in the NHL. However, the Habs may not make the playoffs, meaning Poehling wouldn’t get that chance to play for Montreal as he will likely be still playing for St. Cloud State. The Huskies are headed to the conference final four in Saint Paul, Minn., this weekend. Even if the Huskies don’t win the event, they will get a wild-card invite to the following weekend as the top team in the country. That leaves Poehling playing until March 31 in the event that sees 16 teams vie for the final four. Montreal has three games after that date, ending with an April 6 game in Toronto. If Poehling advances to the national final four in Buffalo, N.Y., in mid-April, that takes him to after the last Habs game of the season. That means there would be no push to sign him this year, as there are no games left for him to play in. The clock then begins to tick with more anxiety. If he decides to play his senior year at university then before the next season begins for the Habs, Poehling can declare his free agency and sign with any NHL team. The Habs would lose him. Players like Will Butcher and Justin Schultz have gone this route. It all depends on what is going through Poehling’s mind. If he wins a national title, perhaps he believes that he has nothing more to challenge him at the college level. Perhaps he may feel that way already. In interviews, Poehling has not given any indication that he does not want to be in Montreal. In fact, he and Kotkaniemi text each other. Then again, if Poehling did want to go the free agency route, the silliest thing that he could do is tell everyone, thus creating an uncomfortable swirl around him all the time. This one is going to be interesting, and we should know in the next two weeks about the future of Poehling as a Habs player or, frighteningly, not a Habs player.
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