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Flyers vs. Rangers preview: Two divisional games in a row? Am I dreaming?

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More wins, please!

NHL: Preseason-New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

That’s right, folks! With the bye week a distant memory, the Flyers are facing off against their second divisional rival in just as many games. And with no Eagles overlap to be had tonight, it’s all Flyers all the way, baby.

The Flyers are set to square off against the Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden. The Flyers are still relatively fresh off their bye week, and they’re looking to pick up their fifth win in a row. They’ve looked, on the whole, dynamic and solid of late, and look to continue as such. And the Rangers have looked, well, less so. They’ve dropped all but three of their last ten games, and their last three in a row. So, we can reasonably expect this game to go one of two ways--the Flyers either skate easily past a struggling team, or get beat up on by a desperate one. Obviously we all hope it’s the former, but existence is pain, after all, with only sadness waiting at the end, so who really knows.

But, to, uh, move things in a lighter direction. Why don’t we dive into our three things to look for in tonight’s match-up.

1. Lineup optimization

To get right to the punch, we’ve had some serious questions and qualms about some of the lineup choices made over the season as a whole, but particularly of late. Hakstol hasn’t been icing the best lineup possible, and so far it suggests that this isn’t about to change. As of right now, indications are that Lehtera and Manning will remain in the lineup, while Leier and Sanheim sit. And this seems a strange tactic, given how much more these divisional games mean, but still the coach appears to be opting to ice a slower, heavier team, rather than a faster, more effective playdriving one. It’s worth noting, of course, that this lineup was able to get the job done on Saturday in New Jersey, but the fact remains that, as it stands, the Flyers haven’t been put in the best position to succeed here.

*UPDATE: Leier is in, Goulbourne is out. Sanheim remains out. The whole sentiment above still remains, as well.

2. Special teams

But on the other side of things, tonally, the Flyers’ special teams units seem to be trending upward. The power play--despite being up and down for much of the season--has been particularly solid over the last handful of games, but the greatest turnaround has been in the penalty kill, which has gone from little short of atrocious to solid enough. It hasn’t been perfect, by any means, but it’s made a step in the right direction, and done well to largely bail them out when they take a penalty at an inopportune time. Of course, with this shift, there has been some mental hedging, as many viewers catch themselves waiting for the other shoe to drop and the PK to regress to bad once again. But the Flyers will have to push hard against this, to keep putting in that good work and avoid shooting themselves in the foot.

3. Shot selection

Something we saw the Flyers doing particularly well in their last game against the Devils was creating quality scoring chances from the high danger areas around the crease. It’s a method that worked for them--as they were rewarded with three goals from this area--and one they will have to really lean into, especially as they face a goaltender like Lundqvist. And, just like with the penalty kill, they’ll have to work against regressing to old bad habits. Throwing pucks in from the perimeter and hoping that something comes of it won’t cut it, and hasn’t, and isn’t a model that they’ll want to lean too heavily. Moral of the story: they’ve figured out the good things to do, and they just need to keep at it.

And, as for the models over at Corsica, they give the Rangers a slight edge in this one, with the Flyers holding a high of 50.7 percent and average of 46.1 percent chance of winning.

Puck drops at 7 tonight, and you can check out the Flyers’ projected lineup below.

Forwards

Giroux - Couturier - Konecny

Raffl - Filppula - Voracek

Weal - Patrick - Simmonds

Leier - Laughton - Lehtera

Defensemen

Provorov - Gostisbehere

Hagg - MacDonald

Manning - Gudas

Goalies

Elliott

(Neuvirth)