Well, you battle them for every inch of ice surface. Laviolette came prepared for yesterday in only a day and had his team flying off the handle. They weren’t playing dirty as some Canadiens’ fans and writers might suggest (you can leave that for Montreal’s frustration as they took a few liberties in that game with Leino and Giroux), but really the Flyers were ready to win every little battle to make last night’s game a 6-0 victory.
So how did we do that in game 1?
It should be fairly obvious. They are a skilled, small team with only a few offensive weapons and a defensive strategy to act like a 5-man clog in front of Halak (or Price as we witnessed last night). You need to do exactly what Washington and Pittsburgh didn’t do.
Both contenders couldn’t solve Halak despite outplaying the Canadiens for a heavy chunk of the series for a couple reasons.
Firstly, they could win battles for the puck, but they couldn’t operate their cycle in the dirty areas in the corners, behind the net, and along the end-boards. Last night the Flyers did that.
Secondly, those teams didn’t mess around in front of the net or in high traffic areas. Instead they tried to get shots from the high slot and the perimeter while peppering Halak. Because of this, their shots got blocked or snuffed out by Halak. The Flyers, doing what they normally do, played their game perfectly. They got big bodies in front of Halak and made his life miserable with dirty tip-ins and screens.
Thirdly, those teams tried to go toe-for-toe in a speed/skill game with a quick team with offensive talent. The Flyers have the defensive puck-movers to try this, but why do that when they can just as easily rely on their top four to snuff out any Montreal skating along the boards? Washington and Pittsburgh don’t have nearly the shut-down defensive game to perfectly counter Montreal’s few skilled forwards. Pronger, Timonen, and Coburn have brought something new to Montreal’s doorstep, and they haven’t found an answer yet.
On top of that, Montreal’s coach, Jacques Martin, couldn’t handle such a drastically different style with that much talent. In turn, Laviolette even called a time-out while they were already dominating the Canadiens just to tell the team to not get lulled to sleep. He knew that you had to absolutely crush Montreal to send the message. His message was heard, and the Flyers got the series started off in a lopsided way after chasing the cherished Halak from the pipes.
One of the most important things in this game was to get on Carey Price immediately after chasing Halak. You couldn’t let them get any confidence in their replacement goalie either. The Fyers did stellar work and managed to get in 2 more after Price was put in to relieve Halak.
In game 2, you’re going to see a desperate Montreal team that can only fight back now that their goalies have been solved so easily. The Flyers are going to need to come out and do the same thing that they did last night. Keeping the team fighting as if Montreal can beat them at any moment is the trick that both Washington’s coach and Pittsburgh’s coach could not figure out.
Laviolette will need to keep the team interested. How is he going to do that?
Calling a timeout mid-pummeling to tell them to get a little more fire in their step even while dominating certainly helps. It also doesn’t hurt to treat game 1 like a total fluke. Based on his postgame comments, “Game 2 is going to be a battle. It really is. We’re going to have to be better,” he’s ready to go.
Another important point of this series is to get the first goal and play with a lead. If Montreal can get a lead and sit on it, their trapping game along with a solid goalie might be a problem. The Flyers have shown that they can bounce back against a tough defense and goalie before, but they don’t want to toy with that too much. They want to lead in this series.
One last note before everyone prepares for game 2.
Both Carter and Laperriere were re-evaluated today, and it seems as though both could be ready to go mid-series. Carter as early as game 3, and Laperriere is a wild-card at this point. Though having two of their more important players ready to go is a good problem to have, it is still a problem. Laviolette will have to find a way to incorporate them into the lineup slowly as to not put too much pressure on them as they recover while not screwing up the chemistry.
Any number of lineup changes are possible, but I’m particularly hoping he puts Carter on Richards’ wing in Carcillo’s stead when Carter does return just to see how things go. Right now Carcillo is mainly invisible, and he has been for about 5 or 6 games. It’s not his fault entirely, but it’s definitely something to think about.
Gagne -- Richards -- Carter
Hartnell -- Briere -- Leino
vanRiemsdyk -- Giroux -- Asham
Carcillo -- Betts -- Nodl/Powe/Laperriere
The other issue is Laperriere’s return to the lineup. Nodl and Powe have played very well, and a half-speed Laperriere might not be able to play his physical hitting, defensive game as well. If he does get into the lineup and is good enough to go, you probably bench Nodl first despite his great play so far. You then move Powe, who had prior chemistry with Giroux, back to the Giroux-JVR two-man show line since Asham has been virtually invisible. Giving Giroux and JVR a speedy, edgy defensively sound forward to work with might help them significantly. That would create a lineup like this:
Gagne -- Richards -- Carter
Hartnell -- Briere -- Leino
vanRiemsdyk -- Giroux -- Powe
Carcillo -- Betts -- Laperriere
It’s definitely something to think about heading into games 2, 3, and 4.
Other than all of that series stuff, huge props to the Philadelphia fans in attendance at game 1. The Olé Olé chant being thrown right back at Montreal was priceless. Let’s keep it up for game 2, and hopefully by Wednesday we’ll be shipping up to Montreal with a 2-game series lead.
P.S. I wonder if Montreal beat-writer Mike Boone still thinks we’re NAZIs:
There’s not a franchise in sports I hate more than the Philadelphia Flyers.
Not the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Not the New York Yankees.
Not the Dallas Cowboys or L.A. Lakers.
No, you’d have to have an Olympic Games flashback to 1936 and watch the pride of Hitler’s Germany marching into the Berlin stadium to match the feeling of revulsion I experience every time I see the Flyers play.
Especially against the Canadiens.
It’s a fun, enjoyable read from earlier this season. I highly recommend it.
Olé -- Olé Olé Olé -- Olé -- Olé!