(Voorhees, NJ, October 6, 2006) – If there was ever a time and an opponent in which the Flyers could forget about their season opening loss, Saturday's game against New York would be it.
The Rangers will present the opposition when Philadelphia opens up the home portion of its 40th year (7:00 p.m., CSN). The two teams had some exciting, intense games last season when both were battling for the top spot in the Atlantic Division for virtually the entire season, although that spot went to the New Jersey Devils on the last day of the regular season.
"It's the home opener, the crowd is going to be crazy, and it's Saturday night against the Rangers," stated Peter Forsberg. "We should be fired up for this one, but it's going to be tough."
"Everybody loves the Rangers right now with what they've done, and I think this is a real test for us," added Ken Hitchcock. "We get to see exactly where we're at and we'll get a real good evaluation of our own team."
The Rangers are coming off of a 5-2 defeat of the Washington Capitals in their first game of the season. It took new captain Jaromir Jagr
all of 29 seconds to score his first goal of the season, and as always, shutting down Jagr will be a key to victory.
That responsibility could fall on the shoulders of Petr Nedved, who is adjusting to his role of a defensive-oriented forward.
"He's one of the best guys one-on-one, and you almost have to be taking the angles instead of going right at him. When you go in a straight line right at him, unless he's along the boards and has nowhere to go, then nine out of 10 times he's going to make the move on you," said Nedved. "So, you have to just get a good angle on him and be on the defensive side of the puck and wait."
Antero Niittymaki, scheduled to start in net, is also going to keep his eyes out for Jagr at all times.
"He tries to go to the high [glove side], so you have to think about that a little bit, but not too much, because if you're cheating he will see that and shoot somewhere else," said Niittymaki.
With a 4-0 season opening loss came some slight changes from Hitchcock, including one for Nedved, who will have a new linemate. Hitchcock shifted Kyle Calder to a line with Nedved and Sami Kapanen, while R.J. Umberger skated with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on Friday afternoon at the Virtua Health Flyers Skate Zone
"We felt like we just needed a little more bulk with Richards, and we felt like Nedved and Kapanen really do well off the rush and we wanted someone who can make plays off the rush, and Calder is great at making plays off the rush," said Hitchcock. "I think it's something that we can experiment with games."
Umberger was not surprised with Hitchcock's tinkering of the lines.
"If you've got something good going you keep it, but going back into preseason, we're just not scoring too many goals right now," he said. "We're getting our chances but not bearing down and finishing them. He's probably just looking for some sparks."
When it's the Flyers and Rangers, there usually are plenty of sparks to go around, and the players know it.
"I always liked to play against the Rangers last year, especially when it's New York at home," said Niittymaki. "Last year we were fighting for the first spot all year long and I'm pretty sure it's going to be the same thing this year. These are important games."
Mike Knuble has seen the rivalry from both sides, and explained the mentality of a bona fide rivalry.
"Ever since I played for the Rangers side against Philly, and now on the flip side, they have been excellent games," said Knuble. "As a player, they are a lot of fun to play in. You want to get the best of yourself that day and make sure you show up and give it your best.
"There is probably going to be a lot of emotion in the game and you have to make sure you're rested and ready to play, and know that it's going to be that way so you're not caught off guard when it does happen."
The teams will meet again in the third game of the season for both clubs on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.