When: Friday, December 23rd, 7:00 PM
Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers (21-8-4)
UPDATE: Henrik Lundqvist will start in net for the Rangers, Ilya Bryzgalov for the Flyers. The Flyers will be without forwards Danny Briere, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. Marc Staal is set to meet with team doctors on Monday to see when he could be cleared for contact. (12:11 p.m.)
EARLIER: The second matchup of the season between the longtime rivals—and the last before the two teams take it outdoors for the 2012 Winter Classic on January 2nd—has been highly anticipated for reasons other than the impact it will have on the dramatic storyline in HBO’s 24/7. The last time these two teams met, tempers flared and Brandon Prust dropped the gloves with Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo a mere four seconds into the game. After the fisticuffs, the Blueshirts went on to shut out the Flyers with a decisive 2-0 victory.
Despite being without captain Chris Pronger and former Rangers’ captain Jaromir Jagr, the Flyers emerged from the loss to the Rangers by embarking on a seven-game winning streak, until they were unceremoniously pummeled 6-0 by the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins.
As has been broadcast on 24/7, the story of the Philadelphia Flyers this season has been all about concussions. The biggest blow to the Flyers’ blue line and on and off-ice leadership is the loss of Pronger, who will miss the remainder of the season and playoffs due to severe post-concussion symptoms. Rookie Brayden Schenn has been out since early December with a concussion, and Sean Couturier and NHL scoring leader Claude Giroux were knocked out of the lineup with concussions as well after freak on-ice incidents.
Yet even without key players, the Broad Street Bullies managed to both scrape together wins and claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference, in part due to other players stepping up in the interim. Couturier, before he, too, caught the concussion bug, had been replacing Claude Giroux on the Flyers’ top line. Pronger’s former defensive partner, Matt Carle, has seen a lot more ice time recently, and 22-year-old winger Jakub Voracek has stepped up as well, chipping in 5 goals and 16 assists.
Giroux, after missing four games, scored 4 points in his return to the lineup on Wednesday and propelled himself right back up to #1 in the scoring category. Jagr missed the first matchup between his current team and his former team due to a sore groin, but he is expected to make his Madison Square Garden debut tonight.
Since the 2-0 win over the Flyers, the Rangers have earned a respectable 8-1-3 record, but tonight’s game against the Flyers is bound to be a tough one. The Blueshirts have played two more games than the Flyers over this stretch (including one last night, while the Flyers had the night off), and the Rangers’ own injured reserve list is starting to look as alarming as the Flyers’. With half of the team’s defensive lineup out due to a variety of injuries, Connecticut Whale defensemen Stu Bickel and Tim Erixon now make up the team’s third line of defense, and Anton Stralman went from consistent healthy scratch to key second line d-man alongside sophomore stud Michael Del Zotto. Both Del Zotto and Stralman posted a +3 rating against the Isles and saw more than 20 minutes of ice time, demonstrating that Tortorella will not, in fact, have to play top defensive pair Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi for the entire game.
For his part, Carl Hagelin has quickly worked his way up in the lineup with his speedy, impressive play since being recalled from the Whale. He was moved onto a line with Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards in New Jersey and remained on that line against the Islanders last night. In his 13 games with the Rangers, he has dished out 3 assists and potted 4 goals, half of which were scored shorthanded. (Hagelin’s 2 shorties ties him for 3rd best in the league.) Hagelin has been more than impressive since scoring his first NHL goal in the last game against the Flyers, and he’ll certainly be looking to add some more tonight.
In the last three games against the Flyers, dating back to last season, the Blueshirts have outscored their Broad Street opponents 12-2. No doubt both teams will be conscious of the implications of this game in terms of 24/7 coverage, but the Rangers should be especially pumped up coming off two exhilarating wins against NYC’s two other perennial rivals. The Rangers, like the Flyers, have been finding ways to win despite being beset by injuries, and with star goalie Henrik Lundqvist back in net, tonight should prove to be no exception.