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Flyers vs. Rangers preview: These guys again?

The Flyers have been on a bit of a slide lately, but with a very unenviable five-game road trip coming up in the next week, it's pretty crucial for them to get a win here against one of their biggest rivals.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

So the Flyers are in a bit of a funk. They're 1-5-1 in their last seven games, and despite not looking all that bad in some of those games, the overall picture isn't pretty. So as we all know, when a professional sports team loses a bunch of games, it tends to talk about effort and trying harder and stuff like that.

From Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer, following Wednesday's 5-2 loss to Detroit:

"I think we need to look ourselves in the mirror here. . . . Show a little attitude here," said captain Claude Giroux, who scored for the Flyers along with Jake Voracek.

Four games ago, Hextall tore into the team for its listless effort in a 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers. After Monday's 1-0 shootout defeat by the Islanders and again after their latest loss, coach Craig Berube criticized some of his players' efforts.

Berube said some players are "not competing hard enough, and it results in goals against. It can't happen."

"There were guys I'm still not pleased with," said Berube, who played R.J. Umberger (without a point in 14 straight games) just 10 minutes, 7 seconds and Vinny Lecavalier just 11:10.

Asked whether he was close to benching some players, Berube said: "Certain guys are going to have to play better or that's going to happen."

When your team has a bad game here and there, it's fair to question if effort was the problem on that day. When you find yourself questioning your team's effort three different times in the span of eight days, it's fair to ask if something else is the problem. Namely, "how good is this team, really"?

It's a fair question to ask. On Monday, it was an issue of never having the puck as the Islanders spent the whole game skating circles around the Flyers (and it was the same issue on Wednesday of last week, against today's very opponent). On Wednesday, defensive breakdowns were the issue. Eventually, you wonder if this team is trying really hard to prevent those things from happening but just isn't capable of doing so on any sort of regular basis. Like we talked about against the Rangers last week: we don't have any reason to believe this team isn't trying hard, but we have reasons to believe they're getting outplayed, whatever the reason is (sub-par talent, coaching, etc.).

But whatever that reason may be, if they want this season to matter, they should probably do what they can to knock it off soon. After today's game, the Flyers will go on the road for five straight, including another game tomorrow against these very Rangers as well as three straight games against the three California teams. If things are looking rough now, there's a pretty good chance that they aren't going to be looking much better after that trip ends. So a win today would be nice.

Now, with all that said, there were actually some good things to come out of Wednesday's game. In particular, Michael Raffl coming back helped spark the second line, as he, Scott Laughton, and Wayne Simmonds put together some solid performances. And the Brayden Schenn / Claude Giroux / Jakub Voracek combo kept ticking, both at even strength and on the power play. As such, we should expect the top two lines to stay the same today as they were then, and that's good.

Based on Berube's comments as mentioned above, we may see some change in the bottom-six, where R.J. Umberger is clearly slowing down Sean Couturier and Matt Read on the team's shutdown line. But I wouldn't much be surprised either way.

Defensively, Nick Schultz seemed to find his way into the doghouse on Wednesday following a breakdown on one of Detroit's second-period goals. Some have been very impressed with his play this year (I'm not quite one of them; he's exceeded my expectations but hasn't been great by any means), but after Luke Schenn played a similar game last weekend and found himself healthy-scratched, Schultz could go the same way today. We'll find out closer to game time.

As for the Rangers, Alain Vigneault wasn't revealing much about his lineup in yesterday's Rangers practice, but the big question is whether or not top defenseman Ryan McDonagh ends up back in the lineup. He's missed 11 straight games with a shoulder problem, but Vigneault "would not commit" to anything yesterday, simply saying "everyone is skating during warm-ups, then we'll let you know who's playing". So we'll find out more then.

This Rangers team knows that they very well may be in the Flyers' heads, and with a back-to-back beginning today and the Flyers' schedule coming up, they have to know they've got a great opportunity to put some further distance between the Flyers and a potential playoff spot. Given that a win tomorrow in New York isn't likely, the Flyers are probably going to need one today.

Unsure who is in net for the Flyers, after both Steve Mason and Ray Emery had some time on Wednesday. Cam Talbot -- who shut the Flyers out in New York last week -- will start for the Rangers, meaning Lundqvist gets tomorrow's game. Joy. But we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

Game is on NBC at 1. Hope you've all got your good deals picked up before then. Go Flyers.

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