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Canadiens won't hide from Flyers' pressure

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com
PHILADELPHIA -- The Montreal Canadiens may not be intimidated by the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I don't think (Game 1) came down to being out-hit or something like that," said Brian Gionta, Montreal's mighty-mite forward.
 
But that does not mean that Philadelphia's unique combination of size and skill across its lineup isn't already causing the smaller Canadiens some problems in the Eastern Conference Final.

Philadelphia used its size advantage at both ends of the rink Sunday to fashion a dominating 6-0 victory at the Wachovia Center, a victory that left the Canadiens looking for answers Monday afternoon as they prepare for Game 2 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS) here.

"We need to do a better job of counteracting that," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said after Monday's team meeting and optional practice.

Excuse the pun, but that may well be the tallest order these Canadiens have faced in a magical 15-game run through the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the defensive zone, the Canadiens had all kinds of trouble blunting Philadelphia's aggressive forecheck and its insistence on placing big bodies all around goalie Jaroslav Halak once possession in the attacking zone was established.

Montreal, unfortunately, is not built to handle that kind of havoc down low, as Hal Gill is the only punishing member of the team's blue-line corps.

It's not just Philadelphia's big boys willing to pay the price, either, but also its high-skill players.

"I think their skill guys really like to play in traffic," Montreal forward Glen Metropolit told NHL.com. "Guys like (Simon) Gagne and (Danny) Briere, they are talented, but they also like to get in there. They play in the rough areas."

Gagne and Briere had goals Sunday. Plus, they started giving the Montreal defense some serious headaches.

Montreal rookie defenseman PK Subban had been the toast of the town since entering the playoffs late in the first round. He held his own against the high-scoring Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, but neither of those teams put Subban under the physical duress generated by Philadelphia's unrelenting forecheck.

In his first nine playoff games, Subban had been a minus player just once, totaling a plus-2 in the seven-game series against the Penguins. On Sunday, he was a minus-3 and had difficulty moving the puck out of his own end.

But Subban's troubles were symptomatic of a breakdown in Montreal's ability to get out of its own end under pressure.

"We've got to do a better job of moving the puck quicker and tiring them out and making them skate a little more," Gionta said. "If they're coming that hard on the forecheck, you can make one or two quick passes, you catch them quick and it kind of slows them up the next time. I don't think it came down to being outhit or something like that."

Things weren't much better when Montreal gained control of the puck.

In the attacking zone, Philadelphia's towers of power on the blue line -- Chris Pronger and Braydon Coburn -- made life miserable for Montreal's fleet of smaller, skilled forwards. Pronger is 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds with a legendary and well-chronicled mean streak. Coburn, meanwhile, is 6-5 and 220 pounds of ill intent.
 
Just the specter of those two players appeared to cause pause among the Canadiens. Both Dominic Moore and Gionta talked about the forecheck being disjointed or a step late at times.

"Too many little dangles at the blue line instead of getting back to basics," is the way forward Mathieu Darche explained it. "We weren't doing that against Pittsburgh or Washington because we told ourselves with the firepower they've got, they'll bite us. Philly, you look at their lineup, personally I think they have as much firepower as those teams."

Even when Montreal got the puck deep, the results were not usually pretty.

"We didn't hold it down their end," Metropolit told NHL.com. "We tried to rush plays and that is what hurt us. There was no sustained pressure at all and we know we have to get back to that.

On Sunday, Gionta (5-7, 173), Michael Cammalleri (5-9, 182), Tomas Plekanec (5-11, 198) and Scott Gomez (5-11, 202) -- the team's top four scorers -- were punished almost every time they made a foray on the forecheck or tried to establish position in front of goalie Michael Leighton.

"There's kind of that perfect storm of things that went wrong for us. I have confidence that we'll rebound, no problem, and be able to come back and with a much better effort (Tuesday) night."
-- Brian Gionta

Gomez took a pair of retaliatory penalties in the process, but the constant pressure by the Philadelphia defense also interrupted Montreal's ability to engineer sustained pressure or manage anything more than a one-off shot that the unscreened Leighton could block aside. Cammalleri and Gionta, who have combined for 19 goals this postseason, were held to one shot each.

"Things just weren't connecting all the way around," Gionta said. "You know, obviously we had a few opportunities where we missed the net, as well. As far as getting them on net, we need to do a better job of creating, for sure. A lot of it is coming up together with more support through the neutral zone and being able to enter their zone with a little more support. When you don't do that, you're not able to get on the forecheck as easily. You can't get in sustained pressure in their defensive zone."
 
But Montreal believes it has the answers and can make the type of adjustments that served them so well in comebacks from Game 1 losses in each of the past two rounds.
 
"There's kind of that perfect storm of things that went wrong for us," Gionta said. "I have confidence that we'll rebound, no problem, and be able to come back and with a much better effort (Tuesday) night."


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