It’s a good, old-fashioned Atlantic Division battle this Sunday on the NHL on NBC (12:30 p.m. ET) as the Philadelphia Flyers
meet the New York Rangers
at Madison Square Garden.
Mike "Doc" Emrick (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (inside-the-glass reporter) will call the game, and McGuire will join former New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury as the between-periods analysts.
"This game has major playoff implications,” McGuire said. “These teams do not like each other at all and that leads to angry games. The Rangers have really hit their stride and the Flyers are fighting to hold on. It's obviously a very important game for both teams."
The Rangers face a conundrum in goal. Does coach Tom Renney start Stephen Valiquette, who has two shutouts against Philly this season, or opt for Henrik Lundqvist, second in the NHL with eight shutouts, in a bid to win for the fourth time in six games this season against the Flyers? The teams play twice more this month.
For your viewing pleasure, NHL.com enlisted the help of St. Louis Blues assistant coach Brad Shaw to break down the game. Shaw is aided by fellow Blues assistant Rick Wamsley, a Stanley Cup winner with the 1989 Calgary Flames during his 13-year NHL career, to analyze the goaltenders.
Here is Shaw's take on the game:
The Rangers up front -- It's surprising the Rangers rank 25th in offense with 2.53 goals-per-game when you look at the career totals for some of these guys. They've been very good lately in 5-on-5 play. Putting Dubinsky with Jagr and Avery has revitalized No. 68. Jagr has a real energy for the game again. That's a bad omen for the other team. Avery has settled down a bit and that helps if he stays out of the penalty box. Sean always had the ability to skate and handle the puck, but other things overshawdowed his skills. He's letting his game speak for itself. This line has carried the offense the past six games.
The Rangers’ offense is based on the rush, they're the third-highest shooting team in the League. They don't have a good record when outshot.
Fredric Sjostrom is an energy guy who does things at top speed. He's been molded into an energy guy after there were high hopes in his draft year that he would put up numbers. He adds speed to the fourth line, finishes checks and knows what to do with the puck. He's an interesting piece to their puzzle and they'll have to figure out how to use him.
The Flyers up front -- Injuries are a big issue with Philadelphia's offense. The last time the Flyers beat the Rangers, their top line was Gagne, Richards and Lupul, and they're all hurt now. They're battling for a playoff spot, but they're a two-line team now. The third and fourth line are energy guys who can wear you down, but they don't have the same skill sets. The Flyers have big bodies to protect the puck down low. They get energy from playing an offensive-zone grind game. They wear you down and then put pucks and bodies to the net.
Vinny Prospal will help, especially on the power play. He gives them the option of strengthening one of their top two lines or having a third-line option. He's having a career year in goals.
The Rangers on defense -- The Rangers have a no-name defense and they rely on some young guys. Michal Rozsival and Marek Malik are big guys with long sticks they use well. The defense doesn't outmuscle anyone, but they get the puck to the forwards very well. The forwards backcheck hard and that allows the defense to stand up at the blue line and transition the puck which leads to offensive attacks. The defense makes good reads, moves the puck ahead as quickly as possible and then the forwards are off to the races.
They have great structure in the defensive zone. I saw that when I coached the Islanders. They're good at reading off each other, communicating and keeping the puck to the outside. They're hard to penetrate and do a good job of staying in the right spots.
I really like Dan Girardi and I've liked Fedor Tyutin since I first saw him. Marc Staal is playing decent minutes. Christian Backman, we had him here in St. Louis, is a good puck mover who has put up numbers. He'll help them on offense and has a good stick defensively. The Rangers’ defense has a lot of guys who have proven they can play at this level.
The Flyers on defense -- The Flyers’ defense has a different look now that they're banged up. They were a big, slow defense coming out of the work stoppage, and Derian Hatcher is still there. He fits that description. I watched the Buffalo game when they had a lot of defensive-zone turnovers. They were very unsure and hoping things would work out instead of making things work.
They have a nice young defenseman in Braydon Coburn having a good season. There are big expectations for Ryan Parent who came up this week. Kimmo Timonen anchors the group. He's great at the point and has unreal ability on long passes, which is the hallmark of the Flyers' neutral-zone play. Randy Jones has come into his own with good two-way play. Jason Smith is an emotional leader, especially with Hatcher on the shelf. Look at the scars and black eyes on Jason all the time. He blocks shots and makes hits. It's all physicality with him and he tests the other team's will to compete. That's reflective of how Philadelphia plays. They will test your battle worthiness, test you under pressure, and see how you react.
|Since their last meeting, the Flyers have beefed up their offense with the arrival of Vaclav Prospal from
Tampa Bay, who has 29 goals and 57 points.
Turnovers have hurt them, none worse than giving up a tying goal to Florida recently with four seconds left and then losing in overtime.
The Rangers in net -- Tough goaltending dilemma for Rangers coach Tom Renney -- Valiquette or Lundqvist? Valiquette came back with a win after the shocker in Montreal when they led 5-0 and lost 6-5 in a shootout. Lundqvist had a shutout at home, but Valiquette has shut out the Flyers twice in a row. Lundqvist is playing great hockey. He's had fantastic stats, except the Montreal game. I think Renney will start Valiquette because he's proven tough against the Flyers. Either way, he can expect a good performance from his goalie.
The Flyers in net -- Marty Biron has played the majority of games lately. Rick Wamsley pointed out that in his career, Biron is seven games under .500 as a No. 1 goalie and 28 games over as the No. 2 goalie. It's rare when a guy has better numbers as a No. 2 goalie. Biron played a great game against Buffalo after the Florida loss. The Flyers went down, 3-0, then battled like dogs to come back and win in the shootout. In terms of mental toughness, that was great.
Special teams play -- You would think the Rangers, with their skill, would have the better power play, but the Flyers do, maybe not so much now with the injuries. Philly plays it simpler on the power play. New York too often tries to make the perfect play and doesn't shoot enough. They always seem to be looking to make that one extra pass. They also get stagnant because they are more structured and predictable and they're not willing to use both sides of the ice.
The Flyers, the last couple of games, have had trouble gaining the initial possession. Once they do, they make plays but going back to retrieve the puck in your end five or six times gets frustrating. When it's working, the Flyers outwork you and get the puck back to the point for shots and then converge on the goalie. They'll dump it in and fight for possession. When they do carry it in, they often look for the weak-side pass, a dangerous play that when you execute it right, it gives you a scoring chance every time. When you don't, it goes out of the zone. It's easier to move the puck around the boards. That security blanket is more predictable and everyone knows where to go.
The Rangers use a lot of skilled offensive guys to kill penalties, Drury and Dubinsky, Gomez with Shanahan or Callahan, Straka and Betts, if they need a faceoff won. Their raw skill stands out and it allows them to get extra minutes for their offensive threats. If you get careless against them, you pay the price. They like to stack a forward in the middle. If he has to swing and attack, the second forward moves between the defensemen. The guy in the middle is the retrieval guy behind the goal line where most teams use a defenseman for that. With the Rangers, having a forward get it increases the speed coming out of the zone. Their setup with the weak-side forward in the support role, increases the chances of getting a loose puck you can fire down the ice. Their penalty killers are smart and adept at taking away the next good play.
Like everything else on the Flyers at this point, the penalty kill has been negatively affected by injuries. Richards led the pack and he was more aggressive at pushing the puck up ice. They play a 1-3 so it's different than the Rangers. They have a defenseman in the middle and flat across at the back end. The defenseman are very aggressive in denying the blue line. They make teams dump it in and that makes it a 50-50 possession battle. They're killing penalties at an 87 percent rate in recent weeks. The Flyers use a similar but more standard forecheck than the Rangers. The forward is always in the left lane. They use skilled guys like Jeff Carter and Mike Knuble. Jimmy Dowd has been doing it for years. He's cagey and they pair him with Sami Kapanen who has been doing that for years. That's a good pair. They also use Scott Hartnell with R.J. Umberger, who really thrives at it. The Flyers penalty kill loves to counterattack and put pressure on the opponent. The Flyers' special teams have been their shining light during their recent struggle.