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Rangers at Flyers, 2/1/2012 (Winter Classic)


Guest brelic
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Pre-game analysis by Meltzer. One interesting thing: JVR is on the 4th line with Schenn and Z. As for the other lines, I really wish he'd switch around Voracek and Read or Simmonds.

http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog/Bill-Meltzer/Winter-Classic-Gameday-1212-vs-Rangers/45/40982

PREVIEW 12:30 AM EST

With only two points separating the second-place Philadelphia Flyers (22-10-4) and division-leading New York Rangers (23-9-4) atop the Atlantic Division, the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park will have greater short-term ramifications on the standings than previous editions of the NHL's signature US-based regular season event. The game is now slated to start at 3 PM EST and will be broadcast nationally on NBC.

This is the third of six meetings between the teams this season, and the first of three in Philadelphia. The Rangers won both previous meetings at Madison Square Garden by 2-0 and 4-2 scores after scoreless opening periods. Those results can pretty much be thrown out heading into the Classic -- I'd say the same if the Flyers had won both games -- because its now a whole different venue and a new set of circumstances.

One carryover factor that is likely to be crucial, however, is the need for the Flyers to score first. Anything can happen in any game, but the odds of winning greatly increase for whichever club gets on the board first, especially if that club can take a lead into the locker room (or clubhouse, in this case).

With that in mind, consider the fact that the Flyers are 14-3-4 this season when scoring the first goal of the game, although they've had problems scoring first of late even in their two most recent wins. Philly is 14-0-1 when leading at the first intermission and 18-0-1 when leading after two periods.

The Rangers are 18-1-1 when scoring first this season, but playing a scoreless opening period and then forging ahead later is common for the team. The Rangers are 7-1-1 when leading after the 1st period, and 15-0-2 when leading after two periods (last season, New York was a perfect 29-0-0 when ahead after two periods).

In other words, between star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and a team-wide commitment to defense, John Tortorella's Blueshirts are a miserable team against whom to attempt to chase the game. Make the Rangers play from behind -- even a 1-0 deficit -- and they have only the 18th best winning percentage in the NHL compared with the Flyers' best-ranked winning percentage (.533) in the league in situations where they give up the first goal.

Of course, the players are only human and as long as the deficit stays within a single goal, anything can happen despite the daunting statistical likelihood of pulling off a comeback. There is, after all, a reason why the game doesn't simply end the first time one team scores in regulation.

As compared to an indoor game, the ice is inevitably a factor in the outdoor games. The ice crew the league employs for the Winter Classic is the very best in the business -- and you will hear over and over again about what a great job was done with the ice -- but the playing surface will never be of exactly the same quality as in a regular game.

In practical terms, that means stretch passes are even harder to execute on the outdoor rink. It is important for both teams to make short passes and cope with a greater percentage of bad hops. The players in the Alumni Game were of mixed opinions about the quality of the surface during their game, with a few (such as Dave Poulin) reporting it to be fine and others saying the ice was not too good at times.

Of course, even in the indoor games, bad ice is sometimes a reality. The ice at Madison Square Garden is usually pretty bad, even in the winter months. Something that takes a little more adjustment is dealing with the elements. Gusting wind can make things very challenging. Sun glare (which should be less of a factor with a 3 PM start) or shadows can be a factor. Bone-chilling temperatures won't be a factor, as this year's game should be played in above-freezing outdoor temperatures but it'll still be relatively cold, especially if it gets windy.

Beyond that, hockey is hockey.

Neither Sergei Bobrovsky nor Lundqvist can afford to allow anything soft on routine shots. They must minimize rebounds and make a few "momentum" saves on difficult chances. The rest is up to the players in front of them.

The Flyers in particular will attempt to render Lundqvist a non-factor in the outcome by getting a couple goals on scoring chances he has little or no opportunity to stop. The Rangers may try to rattle Bobrovsky by throwing a few more low-percentage shots toward his feet or aimed at the short-side. Both Lundqvist and Bobrovsky are well above-average at moving laterally. Neither is a stellar puckhandler. Lundqvist's rebound control is often excellent while it is sometimes a trouble spot for Bob.

The game-day graphics on NBC and the announcing team's ongoing dialogue will undoubtedly be on the play of Claude Giroux and his linemates and perhaps Danny Briere on the Philly side and Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards on the New York side. But in these sorts of games especially, it is often the Max Talbot or Ruslan Fedotenko role-playing types who end scoring the goals that put their club ahead.

Forechecking and coverage wise, the Flyers and Rangers won't throw any surprises at each other in their third meeting in barely over a month.

New York will attempt to continue keeping Philly on the perimeter as they did effectively in the first two games and challenge the Flyers' physically. Philly will try to do basically the same thing, but perhaps speed the tempo up a tad. Maintaining discipline on a day where emotions will be at a fever pitch will be a big challenge for both sides.

As always, whichever team is hungrier for the puck and makes smarter decisions under pressure will be the one that wins the battles in the trenches that add up to a territorial edge and eventually wear down the other side.

Special teams wise, simplicity is the word of the day. Pretty tic-tac-toe goals are even tougher to come by than normal so the primary object will be to get pucks on net (i.e., minimize the number of missed and blocked shots), get some traffic in front and look for screens, deflections and rebounds.

Of course, there is always the chance that the game will go nothing like the way described above. It could end up being a wide-open affair with the teams trading scoring chances on the rush and a couple of highlight reel goals scored. There are, after all, some very talented players in the game.

Injury wise, the Flyers have now been without Chris Pronger (LTIR, concussion) for over a month and will have to cope without him the rest of the season. A handful of other players, including James van Riemsdyk (hip), Wayne Simmonds (hand), Danny Briere (hand) are banged up but will be in the lineup.

The Rangers have been winning despite an injury-depleted blueline. There is a remote chance that shutdown defenseman Marc Staal (concussion) will be cleared to give it a go, but unless Tortorella was sending up a major smokescreen in saying that he'll use the same lineup as on Friday, discretion will continue to be the better part of valor with the season not even halfway through yet. However, Staal has been cleared for contact in practice, so you never know for absolute certain until the final lineups are announced.

Fellow defenseman Michael Sauer (concussion) and ex-Flyer Steve Eminger (separated shoulder) are definitely out for the Rangers. Meanwhile, forward Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia surgery) is close to being ready to come off injured reserve but if Tortorella continues to use the same lineup, his return won't be at the Winter Classic.

PROJECTED LINEUPS (based on last game and subject to change)

FLYERS

Hartnell - Giroux - Jagr

Read - Briere - Simmonds

Talbot - Couturier - Voracek

JVR- Schenn - Zolnierczyk

Timonen - Coburn

Carle - Bourdon

Lilja - Meszaros

Bobrovsky

[bryzgalov]

RANGERS

Hagelin - Richards - Callahan

Anisomov - Stepan - Gaborik

Dubinsky - Boyle - Mitchell

Fedotenko - Rupp - Prust

McDonagh - Girardi

Del Zotto - Strålman

Woywitka - Bickel

Lundqvist

[biron]

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I just don't get the JVR thing. If he is that unhealthy that his minutes keep dwindling (below 10 minutes last game), and he gets moved to the 4th line, just scratch him already and let him get whatever off-ice treatment he needs for his injuries. If it's anything like Briere's sports hernia, that's not good. Briere's production was way down and he was more invisible than usual during that stretch.

JVR is invisible, so let him heal up, and put Rinaldo in there.

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JVR- Schenn - Zolnierczyk

I really dont see how you can have Rinaldo sitting in this game. There isn't one guy who can legitimately answer the bell if Prust or Rupp start taking liberties. Rinaldo might be a middle weight but he is deserving of being out there today based on his willingness to stick up for teammates.

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@brelic

Haven't you notice the Flyers philosophy regarding injuries to players over the years. If you can skate then you can play, this team sucks that they seem to push players to play through injuries. How many players have we seen them rush players back from injuries? I think we lead the league with players having concussion problems or head injuries in the last 20 or so years. The only reason they sit players now with concussion is the league mandates that they pass the test first, how many guys here felt that Giroux was rush back to soon and that we hope it won't be a problem long term. Another example is Couterier playing before his hearing is 100%, it's good for the team but what about his personal life? I just hope they will change how they manage injuries to players down the line.

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Dear Ed Snider,

PLEASE, please, please... retire Kate Smith. If you want to do God Bless America fine, it's a nice song. Let Lauren Hart do it herself. That particular magic has run its course, it's time to move on. Kate's done her part, let her go.

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Dear Ed Snider,

PLEASE, please, please... retire Kate Smith. If you want to do God Bless America fine, it's a nice song. Let Lauren Hart do it herself. That particular magic has run its course, it's time to move on. Kate's done her part, let her go.

I think it's time also. Lauren should be doing it herself at this point. Maybe she is the one that likes to do it though?

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I think it's time also. Lauren should be doing it herself at this point. Maybe she is the one that likes to do it though?

Even if she likes the duet, I'm sure that if management told her that they'd like her to start doing it herself she wouldn't protest. And I really doubt that it's her, I think the organization is just trying to hang on to a piece of their history that should, at this point, just become history.

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Dear Ed Snider,

PLEASE, please, please... retire Kate Smith. If you want to do God Bless America fine, it's a nice song. Let Lauren Hart do it herself. That particular magic has run its course, it's time to move on. Kate's done her part, let her go.

Oh yes please.

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Must be a groin issue, I would guess. The fact that he's still on the bench is a good sign, though I wonder if it's only because it's the WC. In any case, I would guess that's the last we've seen of him today. Muscles will just get tighter and tighter sitting there outside.

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