BROSSARD – When the Flyers come to town, the plotline used to focus on how the small, fast Canadiens would fare against the bruising Broad Street Bullies. That’s not the case anymore.
The days of Bobby Clarke dishing out ankle-breaking slashes and Dave “The Hammer” Schultz laying guys out with gusto are long gone. Instead of staring down a bigger, stronger, more rugged team when the 2011-12 edition of the Flyers hit the ice at the Bell Centre on Thursday, the Canadiens might feel a little more like they’re looking in a mirror.
“Even when we lost to them in the playoffs two years ago, I thought it was their skill that beat us,” described Michael Cammalleri of the team’s 4-1 series loss to Philly in the 2010 Eastern Conference finals. “Everyone thinks about the Flyers like they’re just a physical team but to me they were a highly skilled team that was scoring a lot and playing with the puck a lot.”
With small skilled players like Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux – who will miss Wednesday’s game with a concussion – on the roster, the Flyers aren’t just about throwing punishing bodychecks anymore. In fact, with a combined 617 hits so far this season, Philadelphia is tied for 20th in the league in that category. The team they’re tied with? The Montreal Canadiens.
“They still have some big bodies out there that play a physical brand of hockey,” described Erik Cole, of guys like Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell and James Van Riemsdyk. “The makeup of their team changed significantly with their offseason moves but at the same time, they’re the best team in the conference and they’re a high-scoring team so it’s going to take a great effort from us tonight.”
Currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference and riding a six-game win streak into Montreal, Philadelphia will once again be without the services of bruising blue-liner Chris Pronger, who has missed 16 games with concussion-like symptoms. While the Flyers have been missing the All-Star defenseman’s punishing style, Cammalleri knows that’s not the only thing they’re missing with him out of the lineup.
“Pronger is probably the greatest example of that. He’s obviously a physical guy and when people talk about Chris Pronger it’s about him being this big, physical defenseman,” mentioned Cammalleri. “But he’s also one of the best puck-moving defensemen and the best first pass making defenseman of our time. I think the hardest part about playing against Pronger is his skill level, not his physicality.”
About to face a team that’s leading the league with 3.7 goals-for per game, Max Pacioretty is more interested in beating the Flyers on the scoreboard than in the hits column – although winning in both areas might be a recipe for success.
“It’ll still be a gritty game because we know how skilled they are and we know how we have to play against them,” said the 23-year-old power forward. “You still have to be playing physical hockey and grinding pucks out. It doesn’t really matter if Pronger or Giroux are in the lineup or not – we have to be smart and we have to be physical against them to be successful.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Notebook - Dec. 14, 2011
Habs call up Michael Blunden