A soundly executed 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night raised more questions than it answered for long-suffering Canadiens fans. Even the most ardent supporter of the bleu, blanc, et rouge could not have been expecting the Habs, who haven't scored more than two goals in a game since John Paul was Pope, to explode for four goals - two at even strength - in the game's first thirty minutes, or to transform their penalty kill - which has been giving it up like a drunken cheerleader all year - into a steel curtain during a pivotal two-minute 5-on-3 disadvantage. Was this the team that coughed up a 4-1 lead against Nashville just a week ago? Was this the team that couldn't beat the league's worst road team - playing its third game in four nights no less - at home on Tuesday? Was this the team ... well, you get the idea.
The Flyers, coming off a massive win Wednesday in which they played the Sea Lion to Pittsburgh's Penguins, may have been taking the Habs lightly. They started their back-up goalie, Antero Nittiymaki, and began the game on auto-pilot, as though they expected their goals against the Habs to ... just happen.
Instead, Chris Higgins opened the scoring off a brilliant sequence by Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov. Then, Andrei Kostitsyn scored just seconds into the middle frame, and before you got back from the 'fridge, Mark Streit (Mark Streit?) had chalked up a pair.
Admit it, Habs fans: in your heart-of-hearts, you expected the Habs to choke, especially when an unlucky Kyle Chipchura high-stick and an uncharacteristic lapse of discipline by Roman Hamrlik led to a Flyers 5-on-3 late in the second. But they didn't choke, and didn't even seem particularly worried they would. Instead, for the first time in over a month, they played Coach Carbo's 'hybrid' system to a tee, breaking up neutral zone plays, forechecking hard when the opportunity presented itself, and keeping the opposition to the outside in their own zone.
Carey Price, who has looked doubtful at times since taking over the number one spot from the injured Cristobal Huet, showed excellent positioning and came up big when he had to, though not many of the thirty-one shots he faced were especially dangerous, as his defensemen actually showed up for him tonight. Nonetheless, an encouraging win for the young guy.
Sergei Kostitsyn played his first game for the Habs, and showed slick playmaking skills, good speed, and a lot of hustle. If he plays like that every night, he will be around for a long while yet.