The New York Rangers-Philadelphia Flyers rivalry is one of the nastiest in all of hockey. But, this year it takes on a different twist with the two teams featured in HBO's all-access 24/7 series leading up to the Jan. 2 outdoor game at Citizens Bank Park. Saturday's 2 p.m. EST (MSG) game between the two foes can be considered a first look for the show, which will begin airing Dec. 14.
On a point-per-game level, this is the best match up on paper in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers (11-5-3) have played a league-low 19 games this year but have managed 1.315 points per game on the year, while the Flyers (13-6-3) have played 22 games and have compiled a 1.318 mark. Currently, Philadelphia is the fourth-best team in the conference; the Rangers are sixth.
Philadelphia is coming off a 3-1 win over Montreal and is 5-2 in their last game. The Blueshirts snapped their two-game skid with their 6-3 domination of the Washington Capitals on Saturday, and returned to playing their forechecking style in the win.
While the games between Washington and New York have been ramped up over the years, the Flyers and Rangers have been that and then some for much longer than that. This game will be chippy, it will be emotion-filled and it will be back and forth. The Rangers need to stay composed and build on the good things they did in their last win. The Rangers' young defensive core will be tested as Philadelphia ranks first in the league in goals score per game, with a 3.67 mark. For most of the year, because of solid blue-line play and great goaltending, the Rangers have been a tough team to score against. They've allowed the third fewest goals on a per-game basis in the NHL, with a 2.11 mark.
Coach John Tortorella re-tooled the lines Friday, making them more balanced. Thus, he was able to roll all four out more consistently, instead of relying on one single line. That's important not only for the long-term benefit of the team, but especially on the first of a back-to-back.
Philadelphia center Claude Giroux ranks second in the league with 27 points; he has 11 goals and 16 assists on the year. Gritty winger Scott Hartnell has 19 points, but the Rangers will catch a break with the team's third-leading goal scorer, Jaromir Jagr, out with a sore groin.
Make no mistake about it, though, this Flyers team is dangerous up and down the lineup. The Rangers will need their big players, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi, to play like the stars they are. This is a good measuring-stick game for the Rangers to see if they can hang with such a good Philadelphia squad.