Contrary to initial reports, the Flyers actually did show some fight on Friday.
The problem was it came from the coach 20 minutes after the Canadiens finished off a 5-0 thumping of his mostly listless Flyers.
Alain Vigneault acknowledged that Montreal had been the better team all afternoon. The onslaught started with Tomas Tatar’s goal 62 seconds in and paused only occasionally as the eighth-seeded Canadiens made statement after statement.
It was Montreal’s final bit of gamesmanship, Vigneault perceived, that really got under his pelt. A little more than two minutes were left when the Canadiens went on the power-play for the sixth and final time.
“There’s no doubt they outplayed us in all facets of the game tonight, especially in the will department,” Vigneault said. “[But I] saw towards the end of the game there where Kirk Muller’s got a 5-nothing lead and he puts his No. 1 power-play on the ice. We had embarrassed ourselves enough, I don’t think we needed to get embarrassed more. So I’m going to make sure my team is very aware of that next game.”
That likely was a message directed more at his own club than toward Muller, who coached his first playoff game only because Montreal head coach Claude Julien had to leave the bubble after needing a heart procedure. Julien, Vigneault’s friend for nearly 40 years, will not be back for this series. Game 3 is Sunday (8 p.m., NBC).
“I’d never disrespect anybody, but we’re in the playoffs,” Muller said. “If you look at our first series against Pittsburgh, our power-play (0-12) was not great.”
Montreal was 2-for-6 on the power-play Friday. They did not score on the sequence that angered Vigneault.
“If this was during the season, it would be a different story,” Muller continued. “But we have no practice time. We’ve gotta keep working on it. I totally understand if that was his comments. I was probably expecting it. My job is to make this team as good as it can be.”
Vigneault has coached in 144 playoff games for Montreal, Vancouver, and the New York Rangers. Through two games in this series, and five meaningful ones since play resumed, his best players have given him very little.
Picking a fight with Muller is a veteran move to divert attention from the lack of offensive production from folks such as Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, and James van Riemsdyk. It’s fun to talk about the depth of the lineup when Nic Aube-Kubel scores goals, but only when the top half of the roster is contributing as well. That’s not happening right now.
“There’s no doubt, whether it be in-season hockey or playoff hockey, you need your top players to be driving the bus, and right now [that’s not happening],” the coach said. “I know that their intentions are good, but it has to transform itself on the ice surface. Tonight, the whole team was off. We hadn’t had one of those in a long time.”
Giroux, the captain, has one assist in five games. He declined to comment on Montreal sending out Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin, Jeff Petry, and Shea Weber out for the final power play, which Brendan Gallagher joined shortly after.
Flyers coaches were furious, but did the players notice?
“Everyone sees everything out there,” said Kevin Hayes. “That’s their coach’s decision. You have to ask him.”