If there is a series that is held up in retrospect as justification for why the Habs need to “get bigger” its the 2008 series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Here what had been a golden season for the Red, White and Blue came to an end in what was deemed an embarrassing fashion, losing in 5 games to the 6th seeded Flyers, whose supposedly pushed around the smaller Habs. Since the series is playing on the NHL Network this week, these seems like a good time to revisit the series with the benefit of hindsight and see how the myth matches reality. Over the next few days, our AWH crew are together going to look over this series with fresh eyes and give you our best takes on what really happened.
Those who are into audience participation here can watch these games again either on the NHL Network, which is showing 3-4 of the 5 games in the series live this week or over the internet on NHL Gamecenter’s Vault.
Before we delve into what happened this series we should first answer one question, who exactly were these two teams at that time?
Habs vs Flyers: The Matchup
The obvious first thing to look at here was how good each of these teams played during the 07-08 season. Its easy to take future information on how Philadelphia rose to be an Eastern Conference powerhouse while Montreal slid back into the playoff bubble to think that the Flyers were a strong team about to emerge in 08. But how well does that supposition stack up to how well they were playing then? Lets look at the tale of the tape.
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I remembered well about the Eastern Conference regular season champions of 08 were a pretty poor even strength team propped up by goal-tending and special teams. What I didn’t know was that the Flyers were exactly the same that season just worse/less lucky. This really speaks to the nature of the NHL during the immediate aftermath of the lockout, back then you could get away with being a poor puck possession team and be competitive if you could make up for it in other areas. 3 of the top 8 teams in the East that season, including the top two teams in Montreal and Pittsburgh, were in the bottom 6 in the league in 5 on 5 puck possession measured by team Fenwick close. On the other side, the 3rd (Carolina), 5th (Toronto), 6th (Buffalo) and 7th (Tampa Bay) 5 on 5 puck possession teams in the East missed the playoffs that year. Tampa Bay and Toronto were in the basement actually, two good 5 on 5 teams completely undone by shoddy goaltending and special teams. This was an era when penalties were so frequent a poor ES team could make back their ground on the back of a good power play and penalty kill.
We can see here that as far as the 07-08 versions went, the Habs and the Flyers were basically the same in everything except the things were the Habs were better. The Canadiens held the advantage in 5 on 5 shooting (which was probably luck) and had a stronger powerplay resulting in a league leading offense. With everything else basically equal, it netted the Habs a +25 advantage on goal differential, but on the whole I’d have to consider them essentially equally matched.
But enough on the stats, how do the lineups compare? We’ll be looking at that here tomorrow.