Chris Higgins scored the go-ahead goal midway through the second period and added an assist to help the Canadiens beat Philadelphia 4-2 on Thursday night, handing the Flyers their fifth straight loss. Higgins’ linemates also had productive nights. Mike Johnson scored a goal and Tomas Plekanec added two assists.
“I think we’ve got a lot of depth on this team,” Higgins said. “Now with Plekanec and Johnson, we’re adding a little more offence and a little more creativity to the line.”
Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said that the third line has given his club a big lift, especially since Higgins is returning to form after missing 18 games with a sprained ankle.
“When you miss over a month and a half and everybody else is at the top of their game, it’s really kind of hard to match the speed of the other team,” Carbonneau explained. “But the last few games when Higgins started to play with Plekanec and Johnson, he’s been good.”
Alex Kovalev and Michael Ryder also scored goals and Andrei Markov added a pair of assists for the Canadiens, who won their second straight.
Jeff Carter and Joni Pitkanen scored goals for the Flyers, who have won only three home games, the fewest in the NHL.
Former NHL defenceman Eric Desjardins, who started his career with the Canadiens and played for 11 seasons with the Flyers, was honoured in a pre-game ceremony with gifts from both clubs and a highlight video salute. Desjardins retired last summer after suffering a concussion, as well as shoulder and hip injuries.
“I always get butterflies before the game,” Flyers forward Simon Gagne said. “But it was a little more special tonight to see all the great moments Eric had with the Flyers.”
Higgins broke a 2-2 tie at 8:17 of the second period when he redirected a shot from the point by Francis Bouillon high into the net. Ryder added a power-play goal with a wrist shot from the left circle at 7:10 of the third period.
The teams combined for three goals within a span of 55 seconds early in the first period.
Johnson put the Canadiens ahead at 5:00 when he put in his own rebound.
Carter tied it at 5:25 with a deflection of a shot by Alexei Zhitnik.
Kovalev regained the lead for Montreal 20 seconds later when he scored from the right side after taking a cross-ice pass from Markov.
Pitkanen pulled the Flyers even 1:56 later with his first goal of the season, a one-timer that slipped between the pads of Montreal goaltender David Aebischer, on a power play.
Aebischer had 34 saves. His most spectacular play came late in the second period when he slid midway between the circles to knock a loose puck away from Gagne on a breakaway attempt. He also blanked the Flyers on four power plays in the third period, including 1:43 of a two-man advantage.
“It wasn’t easy to start the game like that,” explained Aebischer about the early four goal flurry. “But sometimes you just have to battle through.”
Philadelphia goaltender Antero Niittymaki, who has dropped his last 12 decisions (0-11-1), stopped 22 shots.
Despite another losing streak, Flyers coach John Stevens said that the team is making progress.
“I know with the score you guys are going to think I’m crazy,” Stevens explained. “But we did a lot of good things and I thought tonight there were long stretches where we carried the play.”
Notes: Montreal’s Plekanec and Sheldon Souray hit the left post and crossbar, respectively, within a 17-second span midway through the first period. …The Canadiens began a three game road trip in five nights. … Montreal LW Garth Murray returned after missing three games with a bruised hand. … Philadelphia C Peter Forsberg returned after missing four games with a strained groin. … Philadelphia LW Kyle Calder appeared in his 400th NHL game. … RW Sami Kapanen played in his 200th game as a Flyer.