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Rangers, Flyers on pace for prolific Classic matchup

by Dave Lozo /
If the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers maintain their current form, the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic could be more special and historic than any of the outdoor games that have preceded it.

Giving or taking a fraction of a point, the Rangers are on pace to arrive at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia with 52 points in 36 games, while the Flyers are on pace for 48 points in 36 games. It could be the best Winter Classic matchup in terms of point totals of the two teams in the game's five-year history:

* In 2008, the Penguins had 42 points in 38 games; the Sabres had 40 points in 37 games.

* In 2009, the Red Wings had 53 points in 36 games; the Blackhawks had 47 points in 34 games.

* In 2010, the Bruins had 47 points in 39 games; the Flyers had 40 points in 39 games.

* In 2011, the Penguins had 53 points in 39 games; the Capitals had 49 points in 39 games.

The combined 102 points between the Pens and Caps will be tough to eclipse, but they had the benefit of playing six more games than the 2012 teams. In terms of points percentage, the showdown between the Red Wings and Blackhawks at Wrigley Field featured the best matchup, but the Rangers and Flyers still have plenty of time to exceed those numbers.

With the way the Rangers and Flyers have been playing recently, it's well within the realm of possibility.

While the Boston Bruins have been dominating the headlines with their 13-0-1 run -- and rightfully so, because that's ridiculous -- the Rangers have won 12 of 14. They've scored at least four goals in eight of the 12 wins and have allowed two goals or less in nine of those victories. If the Bruins weren't unbeatable during regulation over the same time frame, the Rangers would be getting a lot of more attention in the hockey world.

Since Oct. 29, the Flyers are 10-3-2. They've done it with captain Chris Pronger playing just five games during that stretch due to various injuries and ailments, and there's a chance he be back until the Winter Classic.

The Flyers have earned their wins in a seemingly different way each night. They rallied to beat the Ducks in overtime Friday and blew the doors off the Coyotes the following night with four goals in the first period.  The one constant has been Hart Trophy favorite Claude Giroux, who has 9 goals and 12 assists in the past 15 games, including the game winners against the Ducks and Coyotes this weekend.

Less than a month from the Winter Classic, and the Rangers and Flyers are playing like two of the best teams in the NHL.

But they're not the only two teams flying into December. Take a look at this week's Super 16 to check out how Original Six teams are dominating as we move past the one-third point of the regular season.

1 Boston (16-7-1) 1 It's been 37 days since the Bruins lost in regulation. When Chris Kelly scores, the Bruins are 8-0-0. When Tim Thomas scores, that's when we'll know the Bruins won't lose again. 
2 N.Y. Rangers (15-5-3) 3 This is the Rangers' best 23-game start since the 1993-94 season, when the 54 years of waiting for a championship were over after they beat the Canucks in the Cup Final.
3 Detroit (16-8-1) 4
At 41, Nicklas Lidstrom is on pace to tie a career best with 20 goals. When do we step in and start studying him at a genetic level? It's possible he's not human. I refuse to rule it out.
4 Pittsburgh (16-7-4) 2 Sidney Crosby hasn't scored a goal in six games after scoring twice in his return game.  His longest career drought was nine games in December 2008. He's on pace for a career-best 89 assists.
5 Philadelphia (15-7-3) 7 The Flyers are almost unbeatable when leading at an intermission. They are 10-0-0 when leading after one period, 12-0-1 when leading after two periods.
6 Minnesota (17-7-3)
The Wild rebounded from a pair of three-goal losses to go 4-0-0 last week. Dany Heatley's goal Sunday was his third in seven games. Sunday's win was the team's first when allowing three goals.
7 Chicago (16-8-3) 6
Only two teams are scoring more goals per game than the Blackhawks. Since winning the Norris Trophy in 2010, Duncan Keith is a plus-1 in 106 games.
8 Vancouver (15-10-1) 9
In his first 14 games back from hip surgery, Ryan Kesler had 2 goals, 5 assists and a minus-2 rating.  In his last seven, though, he has 3 goals, 6 assists and a plus-6. He's rounding into form, as are the Canucks.
9 San Jose (14-8-1) 5 Coach Todd McLellan shredded his defense following a loss to the Panthers. In their defense, the speedy Panthers have given lots of teams trouble this season.
10 St. Louis (14-9-3) 11 Brian Elliott's loss Saturday to the Blackhawks was his first after winning six straight. Where would the Blues be if Elliott didn't carry the load while Jaroslav Halak faltered?
11 Florida (14-8-4) 13 A massive showdown awaits the Panthers at home Monday. If they beat the Capitals, they could have a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division at night's end.
12 Toronto (14-10-2) 8 Take away their four losses to the Bruins by a combined 23-6 margin, and the Leafs go from 27th in goals-allowed per game to 19th. Six of their 10 losses have come within the division.
13 Dallas (15-10-1) NR
How amazing has Eric Nystrom been for the Stars? Acquired in a trade after the Wild placed him on waivers, Nystrom has 10 goals and 2 assists in 21 games.  He's one goal shy of his career high of 11 in 82 games in 2009-10 with Calgary.
14 Phoenix (13-9-3) 10 The Coyotes have just nine goals in their last 5 games. Radim Vrbata quietly is having a big season with 12 goals in 25 games. He had a career-best 27 goals in 76 games with Phoenix in 2007-08.
15 Los Angeles (13-9-4) NR
Jonathan Bernier has made five starts this season as the 11th pick of the 2006 draft appears stuck behind Jonathan Quick. He's an immense talent, but his future may lie elsewhere.
16 Buffalo (14-11-1) 14 In goalie Ryan Miller's first game back after being run over by Boston's Milan Lucic, he was run over by Nashville's Jordin Tootoo. This time, however, he stayed in the game and won, making 32 saves in a 3-2 victory.
If you have any problems, questions, anger or praise for this list, you can let me know on Twitter: @davelozo
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