PREVIEW: FLYERS VS. RANGERS
The Philadelphia Flyers (8-10-3) are used to being in better shape in the standings by the time it comes to play their annual Black Friday matinee at the Wells Fargo Center. This year, the club is in dire need of a win as it opens a home-and home set with the New York Rangers (9-8-4).
Game time is 1:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised nationally on NBC.
This is the second of four meetings between the teams this season — the second of three within the month of November — and the first of two in Philadelphia. The teams will rematch tomorrow afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The season series concludes on Feb. 28 at the Wells Fargo Center.
On Nov. 19 in New York, the Rangers dominated the Flyers for two-plus periods and went on capture a 2-0 win that was only that close because of spectacular goaltending by Philadelphia netminder Steve Mason (32 saves). The Flyers goalie had no chance on either Kevin Klein’s even strength goal in the first period or Rick Nash’s power play tally in the middle stanza. Backup New York goaltender Cam Talbot earned a 31-save shutout, making 13 of his saves in the third period.
Following the home-and-home with the Rangers, things won’t get any easier for the Flyers in terms of schedule difficulty. The team embarks next week on a California road trip that will take the team through San Jose on Tuesday, Anaheim on Wednesday and Los Angeles on Saturday. The Flyers will then make a Dec. 9 stop in Columbus before returning home for three games.
The Rangers schedule will lighten considerably — in volume, not in difficulty — for nearly the two weeks after the home-and-home with Philly. Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 12, there are just three games on the docket. New York will host Tampa Bay next Monday, have four nights idle before traveling to Detroit next Saturday, host Pittsburgh on Dec. 8 and then have four more idle nights before embarking on a three-game road trip through western Canada. Flyers outlook
The Flyers have been a mess ever since a five-night break of their own in November. In the seven games that have followed, the team has posted a 1-5-1 record. In that span, the Flyers have been shut out twice and have not played with a lead at any point in the six games they have lost.
Things have gone so badly that the team has been called out twice within the span of a week.
General manager Ron Hextall laced into the team following the loss to the Rangers — a game in which Flyers captain Claude Giroux played through a lower-body injury that was initially said to keep him out for at least two games. After Tuesday’s game in Detroit, head coach Craig Berube publicly said (for the second time in four games) that there are players who aren’t competing hard enough. The team held a players-only meeting after the loss to the Red Wings.
Of late, the Flyers have not been a tough out for opponents. They have over-relied on their top line, first power play unit and the goaltenders to shoulder the entire load. There has been no secondary scoring. The penalty killing has been a miss and the five-on-five play not much better.
On Tuesday, the Flyers sustained a 5-2 loss to Detroit. In a failed effort to light a spark with the team, Mason (who has been sensational of late, and was not to blame for what happened at the Joe) was pulled after the game got to 3-1. The game was actually evenly played for the first 30 minutes of regulation but the Red Wings surged for two quick goals, precipitating the change in net from Mason to Ray Emery (nine saves on 10 shits).
The lone bright spots for the Flyers in the Detroit debacle: goals by Claude Giroux (two points) and Jakub Voracek (power play). Entering today, Voracek (eight goals, 22 assists) is one point behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the NHL scoring lead and tied with Crosby for the league lead in assists. Giroux (seven goals, 19 assists, 26 points) is sixth in the scoring race.
Yesterday, the Flyers put out-of-favor right winger Jason Akeson on waivers for purposes of assigning him to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. In the meantime, Michael Raffl returned to the lineup on Tuesday from a right foot injury, well ahead of the initial timetable.
Elsewhere on the Flyers’ injury front, Chris VandeVelde (lower body) is on injured reserve. Defenseman Luke Schenn was a healthy scratch in Detroit, along with fellow blueliner Carlo Colaiacovo. Rangers outlook
The Blueshirts were a scuffling team in their own right heading into the game against the Flyers last week. Following their step-up performance in shutting out Philly and three idle nights on the calendar, New York dominated the visiting Montreal Canadiens in a 5-0 whitewashing that saw Henrik Lundqvist record a 21-save shutout.
Things did not go as well for the Rangers on Wednesday of this week, as they dropped a 4-3 road decision in regulation to a Tampa Bay Lightning club that had humiliated the Rangers at MSG in the game before Philly traveled to the Garden.
New York briefly held a 2-1 lead in the first period, as closely spaced goals by Mats Zuccarello and Dan Boyle (power play) put the Rangers ahead after Steven Stamkos opened the scoring. Tampa then rallied for back-to-back goals by former New York captain Ryan Callahan to seesaw into a 3-2 lead midway through regulation. With 10:22 remaining in the game, Nikita Kucherov provided the Bolts an insurance goal to make it 4-2. Rick Nash shaved the deficit back to one goal with 7:11 left in the game. That was as close as the Rangers got.
Lundqvist (25 saves on 29 shots) absorbed the loss in Tampa. Talbot will get the start today in Philadelphia with Lundqvist returning to the net tomorrow to make his first start of the season against the Flyers.
Entering today’s game, Nash’s 15 goals place him in a second-place tie with Tampa’s Stamkos for the NHL goal-scoring lead. Dallas Stars top-line catalyst Tyler Seguin paces the NHL with 17 goals. Overall, Nash leads the Rangers with 23 points in 21 games. Derick Brassard heads the team in helpers with 11 assists among his 17 points. Martin St. Louis also has 17 points.
On the New York injury front, star defenseman Ryan McDonagh (separated shoulder) is projected to return to the lineup today. Lee Stempniak, who missed the game against the Flyers with back spasms, is once again listed as a gameday decision. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)
Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.81 (T-10th), Rangers 2.81 (T-10th)
Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 3.00 (T-23rd), Rangers 2.76 (20th)
Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.95 (20th), Rangers 1.18 (T-7th)
Power play efficiency: Flyers 23.0% (6th), Rangers 16.4% (21st)
Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 72.9% (30th), Rangers 79.4% (20th)
Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.1% (12th), Rangers 47.4% (28th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)
10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek
12 Michael Raffl – 49 Scott Laughton – 17 Wayne Simmonds
18 R.J. Umberger – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read
36 Zac Rinaldo – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 40 Vincent Lecavalier
5 Braydon Coburn – 47 Andrew MacDonald
8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit
15 Michael Del Zotto – 55 Nick Schultz or 22 Luke Schenn
35 Steve Mason
[29 Ray Emery]
Scratches: Jason Akeson (on waivers, could be assigned to AHL if he clears), Luke Schenn or Nick Schultz (healthy), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy), Chris VandeVelde (lower body, IR).
61 Rick Nash – 16 Derick Brassard – 36 Mats Zuccarello
20 Chris Kreider – 21 Derek Stepan – 26 Martin St. Louis
62 Carl Hagelin – 13 Kevin Hayes – 12 Lee Stempniak
15 Tanner Glass – 28 Dominic Moore – 19 Jesper Fast
18 Marc Staal – 22 Dan Boyle
27 Ryan McDonagh – 5 Dan Girardi
44 Matt Hunwick – 8 Kevin Klein
33 Cam Talbot
[30 Henrik Lundqvist]
Scratches: Anthony Duclair (healthy), John Moore (healthy).
*********** QUICK HITS: NOVEMBER 28
* Over on the International Ice Hockey Federation’s official website, I took an in-depth look at Jakub Voracek’s surge to stardom in Philadelphia. The article also looks at Voracek’s international career with the Czech national team, his memories of being a 14-year-old standout on Kladno’s J20 team when the Czech Republic hosted the IIHF World Championships in 2004, and the upcoming 2015 World Championships in his home country.
* With starting goaltender Rob Zepp sidelined by a lower-body injury sustained in warmups before Tuesday’s 3-2 to Springfield, the Phantoms have recalled goaltender Martin Ouellette from the ECHL’s Reading Royals. Ouellette will serve as the backup to rookie Anthony Stolarz.
* The Phantoms return to action tonight, playing the Albany Devils on the road. Tomorrow night, the club is back home in Allentown to take on the Norfolk Admirals in a 7:05 p.m. tilt.
* On the Flyers Alumni Official Site we have added a page for the daily Today in Flyers History entries than list notable games, trades, Alumni birthdays and career retrospectives for Flyers players who were born or died on that day of the calendar.
* We have also added feature articles several days per week on the News and Events section of the Flyers Alumni site. Next week, we will publish the first of what will become a monthly feature in the site: a where-are-they-now article on notable Flyers players of the past. First up will be Mikael Renberg.