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Early Lead Key As Flyers Ready for Rangers

by Kevin Kurz / Philadelphia Flyers
New York makes its first visit to Philadelphia Thursday


Related content: Flyers-Rangers Preview/Game Notes

(Voorhees, NJ) – The New York Rangers will make their first visit of the season to the Wachovia Center on Thursday night (7:00 p.m., CSN), and the Flyers will attempt to put the memories of the two teams’ first meeting behind them.

On November 5 at Madison Square Garden, New York got a first-period lead and was able to hold Philadelphia at bay en route to a 2-0 victory behind goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s 30 saves. The Rangers have allowed the fewest regulation goals in the NHL (29), but have also scored the fewest (32).

That style of play will make the first goal of utmost importance. The Flyers are 9-1-0 when they score first.

“With a team like the Rangers, their whole focus right now is on defensive play, ” said Head Coach John Stevens, following Wednesday morning’s practice at the Virtua Center Flyers
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen looks to get a handle on a loose puck in front of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. (Getty Images)
Skate Zone. “They really rally around their goalie and have a lot of belief in him, so when they get the lead you kind of play into their hands. They sit back and don’t take any chances. They become very hard to play against.

“I think it’s important we not allow them to get out to an early lead.”

The Rangers outshot Philadelphia 44 to 30 in that contest, and the Flyers, despite winning three of the last four games, would like to generate more offense and more shots on goal. In the classic case of the numbers not telling the whole story, the 11-6-0 Flyers are 28th in the league in shots on goal per game (24.6) and last in the league in shots allowed per game (33.6).

While Philadelphia would like to improve upon those numbers, the stats aren’t completely indicative of the way the team has played this season.

“If you look at that game against the Islanders [Monday] night, we had more chances than shots on net. We had a two-on-one that never made it on net, and a breakaway where I don’t know if [Mike Richards] was credited with a shot or not,” said Stevens, referring to the team’s 3-2 win.

“We’ve had some really good quality offensive opportunities that haven’t resulted on a shot on net, and I think as execution improves those shot numbers for will go up and the shot numbers against will go down.”

Generating more offense was the focus of Wednesday’s practice.

“We’re trying to create a little bit more offensively by controlling the puck in the offensive zone and working on the cycle,” said Danny Briere, currently second on the team in scoring with 19 points. “That’s one area that I think our team can be a lot better, just by looking at our lineup up front. We should be in control of the puck a little bit more.”

“We have to continue to spend more time in the offensive zone and be a little bit better with the puck through the neutral zone,” added Jason Smith.

Rangers’ Avery Making Headlines

One player on the Rangers to be aware of, besides their stars like Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, is forward Sean Avery. One of the better agitators in the league, Avery was recently fined $2,500 and the Rangers $25,000 by the league for his actions in a pre-game incident with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He also made his presence felt early on in the previous Flyers-Rangers game by goading Richards into a fight in the first minute despite the fact that Richards still had stitches on the bridge of his nose from a fight in Washington just three days earlier.

Philadelphia will make sure Avery doesn’t distract it from the task at hand – winning a division game.

“He’s a player that comes to play and he’s intense,” said Smith. “He can be a player that plays a huge role in a game if you allow it, and he’s a player that is a guy you need to be aware of. He’s physical and he works hard every night.

However…

“We’re not going to let him be an influence on the game.”

Home Perfection

Philadelphia will try to keep its home winning streak to start the season intact on Thursday. The Flyers are 6-0 at the Wachovia Center this season.

“People around the league and other teams take notice,” said Mike Knuble. “We’re thrilled with the way things have gone. The further we get into the season here, the crowd gets behind us and it becomes an even tougher place to play.”

“You look at the last two games; the atmosphere was great in the building,” said Briere. “When you win, it’s going to do that. People are going to get excited, and we definitely want to keep that streak going. It’s been fun playing in front of our fans.”

While last season should now seem like a distant memory to the players who were here, a little perspective regarding that stat: the Flyers won their sixth home game last year on March 6.
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