Friday, December 17, 2010

Pregame: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers

The New York Rangers will be looking for their fourth straight victory, all over plus .500 clubs, when they travel to Philadelphia Saturday afternoon to take on the rival Flyers.  On the back of this current three game winning streak the Rangers now sit at 20-13-1 overall (5th in the Eastern Conference) while the Flyers come having won four straight and an posting an NHL best 21-7-5 mark, so this should be a great matchup.  In addition to the overall records making it intriguing the home and road marks of the respective clubs only adds to the intrigue as the Rangers are a league high of 12 road wins and 12-5 on the road overall while the Flyers have been a very good 11-5-2 at home.  This will be the second match up of the season with the Flyers having one the first 4-1 also in Philly.  Both teams will be without key players in the game as the Rangers just lost Ryan Callahan for 6-8 weeks with a broken left hand and the Flyers are without Chris Pronger who just underwent foot surgery and will be out 4-6 weeks.

New York Rangers (20-13-1) at Philadelphia Flyers (21-7-5)

Key Opposing Player: Claude Giroux (16-14-30)


Del Zotto-Rozsival


Scratches: Callahan (hand), Gilroy (healthy), White (healthy)

The Rangers will be looking to once again show this team is different and legit as a playoff and contending team as they have in their few outings.  Things are not always pretty in how the Rangers go about their business but there is a fight and determination in this club that has not been there in prior seasons.  For the Rangers to have a chance against a very good Flyers team their offensive superstar is going to have to perform and even in a three game winning streak that has not really happened.  Marian Gaborik other than a very good third period on Thursday has not been much of a factor in the last few games for the Rangers and they need that to change not only in this game, but long term, especially in the absence of Ryan Callahan.

If the Rangers defensive stalwarts Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have not been tested enough in the last week by Nash, Ovechkin and Crosby tomorrow they get an emerging star in Claude Giroux and a very balanced and deep Flyers attack which possesses five players with at least 10 goals and ten players with at least 15 points on the season.  I would expect Staal and Girardi to be together against the Giroux-Briere combination but that will not be enough as the Flyers do a very good job of moving Giroux around and the other weapons they possess in Richards, Carter, Leino, Hartnell all have the ability to kill the opposition.  With that the Rangers will have to play a very sound team game and get good performances out of all of their defenders.

In looking at the Flyers you have to account for all the forwards I mentioned and even without Chris Pronger there are plenty of defenders more than capable of getting the job done.  The fact is the Flyers have arguably the best defense 1-6 in the NHL and while the loss of Pronger is still big there is not team better equipped to handle it than Philadelphia.  Kimmo Timmonen and Matt Carle do not get the respect in the media they deserve and Andrej Meszaros has a huge bounce back start to the season leading the NHL in plus minus while playing a solid physical game.  Sean O’Donnell is the protypical third pair defender who never hurts his team in his own end, so the Rangers offense will have its work cut  out even with no Pronger, though none of those guys can match all that Pronger brings.

In the net the matchup is likely to be Henrik Lundqvist vs Sergei Bobrovsky.  Henrik Lundqvist will be back after sitting out Thursday against the Coyotes and he will look to keep up excellent work this month where he has compiled a 1.71 GAA and .932 save percentage in route to a 5-2 personal record.  Bobrovsky has been stellar in his rookie season with a staggering 15-4-2 overall record, 2.32 goals against average and .923 save percentage making Philly believe they have finally solved their goaltending search after countless tries.

Key to the game: The first period.  The Flyers have scored 32 goals in the first which ranks them tied for second in the league while the Rangers only have 23 which is tied for 18th on the offensive side.  Defensively the Rangers have only given up 17 first period goals which is the stingiest in the league Flyers have surrendered 24 which is tied for 14th best in the league.  If the Rangers can keep it tight early they will build on their ever growing confidence that they can compete with anyone in the league.

Prediction: Rangers 3-2 (Dubinsky, Drury, Gaborik)