After a frustrating loss yesterday to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Flyers can take out those frustrations tonight in their meeting with the New York Rangers. This will be the final game before the brief Christmas break, with their next game coming on December 27 vs. Tampa Bay. A regulation win tonight would put the Flyers just one point behind the Rangers in the standings, and eight behind Pittsburgh for third in the Metro as they’ve already played their last game before the holiday break.
In their one and only meeting with the Rangers this season — the black friday matchup — Brian Elliott and the Flyers shut out the Rangers in a stellar showing at the Wells Fargo Center. Tonight, they take on the Rangers in NYC looking for the same results. Michal Neuvirth will, most likely, make his first start since December 9, in attempt to go a full 60 minutes without getting injured for the first time since October 27. It would be quite the Christmas miracle, wouldn’t it?
The Rangers — fortunately for the Flyers — are also on the second half of a back-to-back, as they lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night. A surprisingly hot start has since tapered off for the Rangers, as they’re 3-4-3 in their last 10 games and seven points out of a playoff spot. The difference, however, between the Flyers and Rangers is clear: the Rangers told their fans they would suck, while Flyers fans were told last year wasn’t good enough. This is a young and hungry Rangers team that the Flyers must not take lightly.
1. Please Michal, just stay healthy
Michal Neuvirth staying healthy is quite possibly the most important thing for the Flyers at the moment. Carter Hart has looked like the real deal in his three games as a Flyer despite allowing four goals yesterday, but they cannot afford to overwork him. Neuvirth doesn’t even need to be spectacular in net, he just needs to be solid enough that the Flyers can rely on him to essentially be the starter while Hart still adjusts to the NHL level, and until Brian Elliott returns.
Neuvirth’s days in Philadelphia are clearly numbered, as the 30-ear old’s contract will almost certainly not be renewed come this offseason. So for his final season in Philadelphia, it would be nice to see him stay healthy and maybe fetch the Flyers a draft pick or a prospect at the trade deadline if he shows enough flashes of the older Neuvirth.
2. Clean up the defensive breakdowns
Overall, the Flyers defense kept the Blue Jackets to the outside yesterday and limited quality scoring chances. When the defense did break down however, they were massive implosions that left Carter Hart out to dry in a big way. If they can cut down on those kind of defensive breakdowns, especially with Neuvirth coming in not having played since earlier this month, the Flyers should be able to keep the Rangers off the scoresheet.
This isn’t the most lethal offensive attack by any means, and the Flyers shouldn’t have too much of a problem controlling this team defensively. After all, they already did it once earlier this season. New York is a team that appears to generate almost all of their chances from directly in front of the net, which could cause some problems for the orange and black if they don’t tie up sticks in the crease.
3. Attack the slot
Defensively, the Rangers honestly look like a tire fire. According to Hockeyviz, the Rangers are a plus-nine percent threat defensively, which is bad. For reference, the Flyers who have generally kept teams to the outside well this season, are a minus-12 percent threat. This is a team that the Flyers seem to matchup well against given their shot attempt selection and their defensive abilities.
We’ve seen in the three games under Scott Gordon a solid mix of playing down low while also getting shots from the point, but tonight that emphasis offensively should be on the former. Attack the Rangers defense at their weak spot, and possibly more importantly utilize the speed advantage over some of NY’s defensemen. After all, this is a team that dresses Marc Staal on a nightly basis.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Patrick — Konecny
Simmonds — Couturier — Voracek
JVR — Laughton — Raffl
Lindblom — Varone — Weise
Provorov — Sanheim
Gostisbehere — Hagg
MacDonald — Gudas