NHL Playoffs, Flyers vs. Canadiens, Game 4: Both teams enjoy big home ice advantage

classichabs.jpgIn Philadelphia, they have those heart-clogging cheesesteaks, the vague yet ever-present threat of batteries/vandalism and the undeniable “spirit” of potential hooliganism. Meanwhile, Montreal provides poutine, an outrageously raucous crowd, the ghosts* of Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and Jean Beliveau alongside their well-known tendency to riot after games. Both crowds are prone to chant “Ole!” although one side (Montreal) does it out of tradition while the other (Philadelphia) does it out of profound sarcasm.

* – Look, I know that those players named as “ghosts” are actually still alive, but in my eyes an athlete goes on to an after-life once he or she retires. So, yes, by that logic Mario Lemieux is Jesus, Michael Jordan is Lazarus and Brett Favre is … Abe Vigoda.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that – at least so far – this Habs-Flyers series is one in which the home team simply dominates.

Philadelphia Flyers at Montreal Canadiens, Game 4

Flyers lead series 2-1

Live on NBC at 3PM ET

The results for each team home vs. the road so far are staggering. Just look at the overall series score: the home team pummeled its guests 14-1 in the series’ first three matches.

Chris Pronger was a physical force in Philadelphia, living up to his Broadstreet Bully reputation by getting in the heads of the “petite” Montreal forwards. It’s hard to wonder whether or not Pronger is in his own head in Montreal, though, as he went -3 in Game 3 and made an epic turnover that was to blame for the game-winner.

According to Dan Carcillo, the Canadiens might even be more willing to trash talk and goad the Flyers at home rather than in the City of Brotherly Love. Here’s a choice line from the AP preview from the rarely-shy Carcillo.

Carcillo then called Cammalleri “a homer,” noting that the Canadiens never tried anything like that during the Flyers’ two home wins at the start of the series. With a smile, he added that the last time anyone stuck their tongue out at him was “probably a girl – a pretty one, too.”

Well, OK then, Dan.

As I mentioned in an earlier preview, it’s been a while since Jaroslav Halak stole a game so perhaps that home crowd could will him to embody Patrick Roy or Dryden once again. I cannot help but wonder whether those “Leigh-ton” chants rattle the Flyers goalie a bit (even if they lack the slightest hint of creativity). Put that thought in the anthology titled “Questions athletes will never answer honestly.”

Regardless, the Flyers could make this series go from “homer” to “endangered” with one simple win on the road. There should be no doubt that Philadelphia will play with more urgency tonight, but Halak seems to grow stronger as the stage gets bigger.

Ultimately, team that wins this series might just be the one that doesn’t depend on home cooking.

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    An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

    OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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    The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

    Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

    “They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

    Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

    Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

    Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

    Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

    Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

    CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

    That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

    Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

    He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

    The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.

    NHL, NHLPA launch program to ‘help players reach their full potential on and off the ice’

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bill Daly and Mathieu Schneider present Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada with the World Cup of Hockey Championship trophy after his teams win over Team Europe during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Team Canada defeated Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The NHL and NHLPA have launched a program designed to help players plan their post-hockey careers long before they hang up their skates.

    The Core Development Program will give players avenues to further their education, network and find out what jobs they may be suited for, such as finance and broadcasting. League and NHL Players Association officials say the program announced Thursday targets young players, not just those in the twilight of their careers.

    “The sooner they can start focusing on the longer term, the better off they’ll generally be – as much in their careers as after their careers,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said by phone.

    This new endeavor is independent of the NHL Alumni’s Break Away program that focuses on player transitions once they retire. Most professional leagues have a similar process, but the NHL and NHLPA believe their program for current players is unique.

    The voluntary program was spawned from player feedback. Several retired players have said they wished something like this existed.

    Former player Mathieu Schneider, now the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director, hopes the program benefits players on the ice, too.

    “There have been studies done that show that players that are prepared for life after sports, after their careers, actually perform better during their careers,” Schneider said. “Maybe it alleviates the anxiety or the some of the pressure that might come normally. I think generally guys just have that awareness that, yes, it is an important part of the development of pro athletes.”

    Some players have taken their own initiative in establishing non-hockey interests during their playing days, such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara getting his real estate license. Longtime forward Jeff Halpern, now an assistant coach for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch, said examples such as Chara are the best ways to sell this program to current players.

    “I think it’s great because a lot of guys, I think, are just scared of what happens after they’re done playing,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who’s currently studying for his real estate exam. “Even for a guy that has a college degree, I’m kind of nervous for when that day might come.”

    Dumba to be healthy scratch for Wild, is ‘trying to do too much’

    Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba (55) dumps the puck behind Los Angeles Kings left wing Dwight King (74) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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    Matt Dumba turned 22 in July, so he’s still pretty young for an NHL defenseman. But for a seventh overall draft pick, the Minnesota Wild might’ve expected him to be making more of an impact by now.

    Alas, Dumba will be a healthy scratch tonight at home against Toronto. He’ll be replaced by AHL call-up Mike Reilly.

    “Dumba is going to be a really good player,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “He is right now. He’s trying to do too much. We just want him to calm it down.”

    The 2012 draft was notable for the eight defensemen that were taken with the first 10 picks. Four years later, some of them have panned out, like Morgan Rielly (fifth overall) and Hampus Lindholm (sixth). Some of them haven’t, like Griffin Reinhart (fourth). But for most of them, it remains to be seen what they’ll ultimately become. Dumba is in that boat, along with Ryan Murray (second), Derrick Pouliot (eighth), Jacob Trouba (ninth), and Slater Koekkoek (10th). Even Reinhart may figure it out, though it doesn’t look good right now.

    Dumba signed a two-year, $5.1 contract extension over the summer. It was the kind of deal that highly touted young players sign when they still have something to prove, which Dumba clearly does.