It was a pivotal game four for the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers.
A 3-1 Flyers lead would seem insurmountable, so the Canadiens had to have their best effort to stay in the series. Montreal has been playing the type of hockey they needed to play keeping it low scoring with few scoring chances overall.
They looked for the same formula in game four and got it, but the Flyers used the same strategy as Montreal and they did it more effectively in a painfully dull game that ended 2-0.
This is most difficult.
It wasn’t as if the Canadiens were bad in game four. They actually played the system that they wanted as taught by the coaching staff. They kept the ice tight for time and space, and they kept the chances low for the opposition.
They did what they had to do when you are the underdog playing the number one seed. The Canadiens are well coached and are well prepared for this battle. They are still playing hockey in the post-season because they were tighter than the Pittsburgh Penguins and are now just as tight as the Philadelphia Flyers.
So why is this most difficult? Because the complete shutdown nature of game four leaves one struggling to find anyone who stood out.
Here’s the analysis: They were fine. It’s hardly the scouting report that one comes to the Call of the Wilde to read, but it’s the truth. No one really stood out positively. The worst moments were not many and the best moments you could barely find.
It was a game almost completely without good drama for Montreal. Nothing really worked. Credit to the Flyers as they play this low-event hockey even better than Montreal does. It leads to a Wilde Horses that you really can’t single out a player for excellence.
They were fine. It was all painfully fine.
Simple and fundamental breakdowns by the Canadiens were seen on the first goal for the Flyers by Michael Raffl, as he took an easy wrist shot from 15 feet. Ben Chiarot was the defender on the shot, and he was too passive backing up into his own goalie, and also he was not able to implicate his stick on the play to bother the shot.
At the same time that Chiarot was having his difficulty, Carey Price actually lost his angle on the shot. He somehow veered too much short side and an acceptable, but certainly not extraordinary shot beat him.
Nearly every single time those two don’t make mistakes that poor. It really was a goal that should never have been scored.
The lines were switched in disappointing ways in the third period. The head coach, Kirk Muller, was trying to shake things up to create some offence, but when you make changes that don’t make sense that is extremely frustrating for players.
It certainly doesn’t provide a spark. It can cause unsettle instead. Max Domi was switched to centre where he has not played well. More confounding is the best centre on the team these playoffs, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, was moved away from centre to the wing. It all felt non-sensical.
Goals are extremely hard to come by in this series. Even chances are rare. That’s why the first period opportunity for Alex Belzile stung when he missed the net.
It was Jake Evans with the steal and pass to a wide open Belzile. Carter Hart had to cut laterally across the net. It was advantage Belzile in that moment, but he missed the net by a large margin.
On the bright side, Evans is looking quite comfortable as a fourth line centre in the NHL. One imagines that he wins the job there in the future with play as strong as he has shown in high stakes contests.
Late in the second period, the Flyers’ Phillippe Myers took a 40-foot bad-angle shot at net that took a bounce off the ice and up and found a hole under Carey Price’s arm. It was the back-breaker. It was a bad goal. There is absolutely no doubt that it should have been saved.
Price has been pretty close to perfect in these playoffs, but this one came at the worst possible time. The Flyers moved up two goals which doesn’t sound like much, but when the Canadiens hadn’t scored in five periods, that two-goal lead was insurmountable — and everyone in the rink knew it.
There’s been some heat on Brendan Gallagher for not finding a goal so far in these playoffs. It’s unfair to Gallagher who is in the middle of the action all the time as usual. He is showing his typical hustle and desire, as well.
Sometimes, though, in a small sample size, the statistics can lie a little. Sometimes, the puck just does not bounce your way, and that’s what has happened to Gallagher.
Gallagher is playing well and he is getting plenty of opportunities and shots. In fact, he actually leads the playoffs in shots on goal with 31 heading into game four. For Gallagher to be stapled to the bench for 10 minutes of the third period is ridiculous. A head coach can’t just take out his frustrations on players trying hard but who are not succeeding.
It’s a ridiculous coaching strategy from Kirk Muller. If the player is dogging it, then sure, but when the player leads the entire playoffs in shots, then a head coach should surely understand that he shouldn’t be benched.