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Montreal, Feb. 16 - The faces of the Flyers lengthened a bit more tonight, as did the distance between the Broad Street Bullies and the top of the NHL Atlantic Division, as the Montreal Canadiens beat them 1-0 at the Bell Center. Philadelphia is a good young team, but they are neither so good that they can win consistently without a few lucky bounces of the puck, nor so veteran that the lack of such breaks does not appear to bother them.
Signs of frustration are beginning to show on this bunch, perhaps with good reason. For the hockey gods , it appears, have turned away from the orange and black, at least for now. A perfect exhibit of the Flyers' forsaken fortune was tonight's third period. At 3:20, Philly enjoyed a two man advantage and ground it out to give themselves good looks at the net. Six or seven good looks they did get, and at one point one of the few Montreal defenders allowed to skate was working stickless, but Philly came away with nary a goal.
Six minutes later, young Flyer Steve Downie streaked shorthanded into Habs realty, beating Montreal's Andrei Markov down the left side and waited patiently, perfectly, for what seemed an eternity before a donating beautiful pass to late late trailer Danny Briere, hitting him right in the slot. Briere got off a solid shot but again, nothing. The hockey gods can be cruel masters. Officiating and Flyer frustration foibles took care of the rest. Flyer penalties, four of the team's nine on the night occurring in the final period, had them skating out-manned often, more than half a period's worth, eleven minutes, over the course of the game.
In the six game losing streak, tying the club's season high, Philadelphia has enjoyed only four power play opportunities, while their opponents have feasted on a whopping 26. This, and frequent nagging injuries, which last night re-claimed Flyers' right winger Joffrey Lupul, who had barely returned from a prior knick, continued. Left winger Simon Gagne is still skirmishing with concussion symptoms, and winger Scottie Upshall is hobbling through an ankle problem he expects will be with him for the rest of the season.
Opposing net-minders are also tossing some wrenches into the Flyers best-laid plans, notching a combined .953 goals against average during the streak, allowing only 9 goals in 188 shots. During the same time period, Flyers goalies Antero Niittymaki and Martin Biron, have surrendered 11 more goals goals (20) on eight fewer shots (180), for a substantially lower GAA of .899.
At 9:40 of the third Montreal goalie Carey Price, all six foot three of him, took a dive Greg Lougainis would have been proud of, drawing a goaltender interference call on defenseman Randy Jones, sending him to the penalty box for some unwanted rest. A potential Philly goal at 18:51 of the third went unrecognized, and unreviewed after Price, who stopped 34 shots and notched his first career shutout before all was done, kept an apparent Scott Hartnell goal under wraps, subtly removing the puck, and himself, out from behind the goal-line.
When the horn sounded, another frustrating evening came to an end, and the Flyers head home to face the same Habs team Sunday night in Philadelphia. They will have some maturing to do before then, to try to shorten up their long faces, and learn the mark of a good hockey team: working through the rough patches. This teams mettle will either be forged and fortified, or melted, by the NHL crucible of bad luck and unhappy breaks, with the shadow of the post-season beginning to lengthen on the remaining games.