Less than two weeks ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were focused on an Atlantic Division title. Now, just making the playoffs has become a concern.
The Flyers hope to avoid a season-high seventh consecutive loss on Sunday night when they complete a home-and-home series with the Montreal Canadiens at Wachovia Center.
Philadelphia (30-23-5) was unable to end its skid despite a much improved defensive performance, falling 1-0 on Saturday at Montreal.
Philadelphia, which also lost six straight (0-4-2) from Dec. 13-22, dropped six points behind Atlantic-leading New Jersey. The Flyers also fell into a tie with the New York Rangers for sixth in the conference, one point ahead of Boston and Buffalo.
The closest Philadelphia came to beating Canadiens rookie goalie Carey Price was with 1:09 left in the game. Forwards Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell crashed the crease as the puck wound up under Price, who ended up well back into his net as the goalmouth filled with players from both teams.
“The ref was on the right side of the net so he couldn’t see it but they didn’t even give us the courtesy of going upstairs and looking at the play,” Hartnell said. “I don’t know what the reasoning was, they didn’t explain it that well.”
Saturday marked only the second time during the last six games that the Flyers held the opposition fewer than four goals. Niittymaki lost for the fourth time in five starts and could give way Sunday to Martin Biron, who is 0-4-0 with a 3.81 goals-against average in his last four appearances.
The return of right wing Scottie Upshall to the lineup was good news for Philadelphia, but Derian Hatcher missed his second straight game because of fluid in his knee and fellow defenseman Braydon Coburn sat out his fourth consecutive contest due to a ruptured artery in his buttocks.
Following a stellar performance in a 2-1 overtime win over Florida on Wednesday, Price was even better Saturday, making 34 saves for his first NHL shutout. The 20-year-old has stopped 69 of 70 shots in his last two games.
“You never forget your first shutout that’s for sure,” Price told the Canadiens’ official Web site. “I can’t wait to call home and share this with my parents. I know my dad was watching, like he does every game.”
Price has allowed only one goal on 65 shots in two starts against the Flyers. He was in net for a 4-1 victory at Philadelphia on Dec. 13.
Montreal (31-19-9) has won two straight following a three-game skid to pull within two points of slumping Ottawa for the lead in the Northeast Division and the conference.
The Canadiens have won all three meetings this season against the Flyers, outscoring them 10-3. Montreal has won three straight at Philadelphia, earning at least one point in six consecutive visits (5-0-1).