For the second consecutive season the smart NHL schedule-makers (that sounds like an awful, stressful job, BTW) have planned a little pre-scrap before the Winter Classic for the two teams who are going to be participating.
Tonight the Philadelphia Flyers head into New York to play the Rangers, and hopefully heat up a rivalry that isn’t the most passionate in all of hockey, despite what we’re all allowing each other to pretend.
I’m genuinely interested for two reasons: it’ll be like a preview of 24/7 on Wednesday (I’m looking for “Ohhh, that’ll definitely be on there” moments), and because these two teams are both kicking around the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers have won three straight games and now find themselves a single point behind the Flyers for first in the Atlantic and second in the conference. I grossly underestimated the Rags this year (though if you’ll let me push my glasses back up my nose: there are some advanced stats that show they’re due to regress).
While the Flyers have continued their winning ways, you have to wonder: how long can they keep winning despite injuries? Can they do what the Penguins have miraculously done over the last calendar year and continue to thrive despite missing massive pieces of their team?
With Pronger out for the year (and Andreas Lilja out), the Flyers will need a big number of quality minutes from their top four. And while Claude Giroux is back, they find themselves without Danny Briere tonight (bruised hand), as well as Sean Couturier (a you-know-what) and Braydon Shenn (the same).
The last time these two teams met, the Rangers took down the Flyers 2-0, but once again the Flyers were without some big pieces – neither Jaromir Jagr and James Van Riemsdyk dressed.
Matt Read skated with JVR and Wayne Simmonds this morning in Briere’s spot, meaning he’s going to see more minutes, and the Flyers need them to be quality ones.
If the Rangers have any major disadvantage, it’s that they battled the New York Islanders en route to a hard fought 4-2 victory last night, and it can be tough to get up both mentally and physically when you’re supposed to actually give a crap about games on consecutive days.
These two points matter for both teams, not just for the Winter Classic, but for the standings heading into Christmas. All I want as a fan is a little animosity. Spice things up for us, make that Winter Classic great, you know?
After all, it’s Christmas. It’s not too late to add that to the wish list, is it?