It will be an important Metropolitan Division rivalry game when the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers meet in the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown on Friday (1 p.m., NBC).
These two teams are trying to claw their back into the playoff picture. The Rangers (9-8-4) are tied for third in the Metro, but only 10th place in the Eastern Conference, with 22 points. The Flyers (8-10-3) are three points back.
Let's talk about the Rangers first. One thing I love about the Rangers this year is Rick Nash.
As good and productive as Rick Nash has been before, he's doing it differently now and I love seeing that. Before, in Columbus, sure he could walk a defenseman and make a great one-on-one move, but he is doing it more often. He is getting to the center of the ice more often.
Left Wing - NYR
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 23
SOG: 75 | +/-: 5
He is bullying his way to net, attacking the net like a power forward should. He's become a guy who wants to be the first guy to net whether he has the puck or not. If someone else is on the forecheck he'll make sure to get to the front of the net in case there is an opportunity.
These are things we haven't seen from him before consistently. It was frustrating at times because we know he is good enough to do these things. He's big enough; he's strong enough and has great hands. You knew the skill has always been there, but I think his will and grit factor has increased by about 20 percent this year.
He had a lot of shots last year, especially during the playoffs but they were from the perimeter. He was a three-point shooter last year in the playoffs. That was what can be frustrating about him. You know he's big enough and talented enough. He has the power and the size and it is a rare combination.
If you watch the games, or like for myself I've talked to players and people on the staff, everyone in New York is raving about Nash. It's been so noticeable.
It is like he made it his mission from the start of the season to get to the net, and he's been reaping the rewards.
One thing I don't like about the Rangers at this point in the season is they don't know how fast they are. They don't recognize how great their team speed is, and it affects their consistency.
The whole key to the Rangers' game is speed. It was last year and it is this year. It is how Alain Vigneault wants them to play and it is based on their personnel and talent. They are a fast team.
It is similar to what was frustrating with Rick Nash, but he's figured it out. What was the problem for the Rangers last year when they started slow? They weren't playing fast. Things changed, and they started playing better.
They started playing faster and they started winning races to pucks and making it uncomfortable for teams who didn't want to play at that pace. Once they started playing fast consistently, they took off.
When they don't realize it, it is kind of "eh, one game on and one game off." Just look at the games they played against the Pittsburgh Penguins at home and the Montreal Canadiens at home. That is how they need to play. When they are playing that way, it is impressive.
For some reason, they don't always play that way. I don't know if they know just how fast they are. Go up and down that lineup and it is full of fast skaters, great skaters, guys who can just fly. That's what helped them go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last year and they need to find that consistency again.
Goalie - PHI
GAA: 2.73 | SVP: .918
Now, let's move on the Philadelphia Flyers. What I like right now about the Flyers is Steve Mason's game has been back for about two weeks now. He was amazing against the New York Islanders. I love that about them right now.
When Mason is on his game like this, it goes such a long way for the Flyers because they're not a great defensive team. They don't always have the best defensive structure. But when Mason is playing like he has the past couple weeks, it gives the team more confidence.
There is a lot of risk in their game anyway, but it allows them to have more confidence to try and play more of an attacking team. Andrew MacDonald is back and they're still dealing with other injuries, but Mason struggled out of the gate. He was way better than he was playing at the time.
He's found it now, and I like that a lot for the Flyers.
What I dislike about the Flyers is they can't seem to get any momentum going. They can't maintain their best level of play. They'll get there and it will maybe be a five-game stretch or a four-game stretch but I haven't seen it for 10 or 12.
Sometimes that becomes frustrating because you know they can be better than they are actually playing. The defense has been their Achilles heel and there have been injuries, but they can play better than they have at times this year.
So what are a couple of keys to this big showdown? I think whoever gets better goaltending is going to win. The Rangers could have an advantage in net if Henrik Lundqvist plays, but Mason has shown he can steal a game or play great for the Flyers of late.
Another big key is sort of what I just talked about with the Rangers. New York is the faster team, and the Rangers should try to play fast against the Flyers. They should want to push the pace and force those Flyers defenseman to play a style of game that they're not as comfortable in. That's what I would do. I would push the play and pressure the Philadelphia defensemen.
For the Flyers, they're going to need to get to the net. If Lundqvist plays, I know Wayne Simmonds is going to be there, but how many other guys are going to drive to the front of the net? Is the whole group going to be committed to making life miserable for the Rangers goalie? That is so important for them.
It should be a great game. I hope everyone enjoys it!