MONTREAL - The Canadiens, owners of the steeped franchise's worst start to a season in 71 years, were desperate.
How hungry? With the city up in arms, demanding change in the Canadiens' organization, Montreal general manager Pierre Gauthier fired assistant coach Perry Pearn just hours before last night's game. As if Pearn - a well-respected assistant - was the reason the Canadiens were 1-5-2 and without five key players, all sitting out with injuries.
Searching for their first home win of the season - including five preseason home games - Montreal shoved forward and leading scorer Max Pacioretty back into the lineup, just 2 days after he tore tendons in his wrist against Florida.
Peter Laviolette warned his troops. Then again, Laviolette said, his Flyers were in a similar situation last week against a brutal Ottawa team. That night, they victimized the Senators.
Last night, the Flyers were the victim.
In a rabid Bell Centre, what started as continual "boos" from the Canadiens' francophone faithful quickly turned to "Olay, Olay, Olay" and ended with "Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye," as the Canadiens embarrassed the Flyers with a 5-1 shellacking.
Besides acting as Montreal's collective sigh of relief, it was the Canadiens' biggest offensive outburst against the Flyers since a 5-2 loss at the Bell Centre on Dec. 18, 2008 - a span of 13 regular- season games.
"We talked about it before the game," Scott Hartnell said. "It's not like the coaches didn't make us aware of what could happen. We knew that if we turned pucks over, their defense would join the rush. And we didn't just turn pucks over once or twice, we did it the whole second and third period."
It was painfully obvious, from the end of the first period when Montreal scored with just 2.6 seconds remaining, just how much the Flyers missed Chris Pronger, who was sitting out his first game of the season with an eye injury.
Ilya Bryzgalov was the unlucky recipient of breakdown after breakdown in his own zone. One by one, seemingly each Canadiens goal came off a broken play, like when the injured Pacioretty sniped a juicy rebound from a hard point shot by P.K. Subban in the second period, without one Flyers defenseman within 8 feet of him, just to the side of the crease.
"Guys were trying hard, trying to block shots and keep them away from the net," Bryzgalov said. "But it seemed like everything is going in the net rather than getting pushed aside."
Last night, it didn't start that way - as the Flyers took a 1-0 lead in the first period and took the play to the Canadiens.
After Matt Carle, who led all NHL defensemen last season in even-strength assists, fed Jaromir Jagr for an easy one-timer just 10:43 into the first period, it was all downhill from there.
"It was like we took a breath," Laviolette said. "And then we just got careless with what we were doing, careless defensively, careless with the puck.
"We came off of a really strong first period. The first 19 minutes were what we really wanted to do. We got away from everything we were doing, from skating and putting pucks in the right areas. Basically, we just turned it over too much."
Despite Jagr's third goal over the past two games, the Flyers' offense virtually disappeared.
At the same time, their defense disintegrated, with the Pronger effect in full force. It was never more evident than when Matt Walker, who was scratched for six of the first eight games as a healthy extra, tried to glove a Canadiens shot early in the third period.
Walker failed to corral the puck, which landed right on the stick of Tomas Plekanec in front of a helpless Bryzgalov - leading to the Canadiens' fourth goal.
By that point, Laviolette had seen enough. After a gaffe on the Canadiens' second goal in the second period, Walker didn't play the final 9:43 of the period. His first shift of the third period was the Canadiens' final dagger. And he played one more shift after that.
You can bet that either Erik Gustafsson or Oskars Bartulis, two defensemen on the Phantoms with NHL experience, will be on their way to Philadelphia today to try and help stop the bleeding.
"I think four of the five goals were the direct result of turnovers," Laviolette said. "You've really got to know what you're doing with the puck. Turnovers, in any sport, will kill you. We made bad decisions and it came back immediately, the other way, and in our net."
Andreas Nodl was a healthy scratch, as Peter Laviolette opted to use Jody Shelley, who played a team-low 4:50 . . . The Flyers were outshot, 28-22, for just the second time in nine games this season. The 22 shots were also a low for the season . . . Claude Giroux wore an "A" on his jersey as an alternate captain last night, along with Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen, to help replace Chris Pronger's missing "C" . . . Brayden Schenn saw time on the penalty kill and was on the ice for the Canadiens' late first-period power-play goal.