Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes also will assist fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are no strangers to each other. They've had many battles over the years, both in the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Friday, they'll play for the first time this season, each looking to rebound from a loss.
The Rangers lost 6-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday in their worst game all season. The Flyers blew a third-period lead in a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. With the holiday behind them, it's back to business for each team, looking to bolster their standing in the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers (14-6-1) visit the Flyers (9-9-3) at Wells Fargo Center (1 p.m. ET; NBC, NHL.TV) in the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown. Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: New York is having an amazing season but needs to bounce back from the loss Wednesday. Those games are going to happen but it's how you respond. Following a loss this season, the Rangers are 5-0-1, although they have lost three of their past four games.
The Rangers speed is very good. They use it both offensively and defensively and for their breakouts. It's a big reason they're averaging 3.90 goals per game, which is first in the NHL.
New York also is getting offense from everyone. They lead the League with 14 players who have at least 10 points, including three defensemen. Eight players have at least five goals, including Michael Grabner (tied for second in the League with 12), and Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash, who each have nine.
Video: NYR@PIT: Grabner goes top shelf with a backhander
Minuses: New York was exposed in the second period against the Penguins, allowing five goals in just over 14 minutes. They were also outshot 38-17 and the result was a reversal of the 5-1 win they had in Pittsburgh two days earlier. Pittsburgh is a team that can match the speed of the Rangers, and hopefully for the Rangers, the Flyers can't contain them.
One of the only other negatives for the Rangers is the injury to Mika Zibanejad. He broke his fibula on Sunday and will miss 6-8 weeks. Zibanejad has five goals, 15 points and was leading the team in power-play ice time among forwards and also is a faceoff specialist. That will all be missed and hard to replace.
Pluses: Wayne Simmonds has been amazing in both effort and production. He's tied for third in the League in goals (10) and has 18 points. Simmonds is a coach's dream. You know he's going to bring that effort every night and get in the head of the top players on the other team, and the net-front presence is huge for them as well.
Next is the young defensemen led by Ivan Provorov (19), Shayne Gostisbehere (23) and Brandon Manning (26). They have skill, talent, and playmaking ability and take some of the offensive burden off of guys like Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Video: PHI@TBL: Provorov buries his first NHL goal
Minuses: Steve Mason needs to be better. He's 5-7-3 with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage, all numbers which should be better at this point in the season. With backup Michal Neuvirth, out 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, Mason probably will carry the load. He and Neuvirth were an excellent tandem last season. The Flyers called up prospect Anthony Stolarz earlier this week and he has yet to make his NHL debut, so it's unclear how much he'll play for them with Neuvirth out.
The Flyers are allowing 3.33 goals per game, second most in the League. That is not a good mix against the Rangers, who've scored the most goals by a wide margin and have scored at least five goals in 10 of 20 games. The defense must tighten up.
Three Things to Watch
1. Flyers net-front presence, led by Simmonds.
2. Do the Flyers try to be overly physical? That's always a staple for them, but special teams likely will be a factor.
3. Which team will have the better forecheck? This is a strength for each team.