A pair of Atlantic Division rivals trying to regain their footing and meet the grand expectations both faced heading into this season square off with one another tonight at the Wells Fargo Center as the Rangers (15-13-3, 33 pts) skate against the Philadelphia Flyers (13-16-2, 28 pts). This will be the fourth of five meetings between these two clubs this season, with the Rangers having won two of the first three contests---winning twice at Madison Square Garden, while dropping a 2-1 decision in Philly on January 24th in the only match played so far played at the Wells Fargo Center.
Both teams come into this evening's game on mini, and identical, skids. The Rangers are winless in their last two (0-1-1), as are the Flyers. The Rangers are 2-4-1 in their last seven games, while the Flyers are 2-5-1 in their last eight. Interestingly both teams were on nice runs before this recent stretch. The Rangers had won five of six games, while the Flyers had won five of seven.
Sunday night at The Garden the Blueshirts fell behind early 2-0 to the Capitals before rallying to pull even later in the opening period. And that score held up until the shootout, where Washington edged the Rangers. That point earned in the standings moved the Rangers into eighth place, one ahead of Carolina which has a game in hand. The Flyers are five points and four teams behind the Rangers for the final playoff spot in the East.
Rookie forward J.T. Miller did not play against Washington due to a sore left wrist and he did not practice on Monday, making him questionable again for tonight's game. While he was missed among the bottom six forwards, the Rangers did receive a boost from the newly-formed line of Arron Asham-Kris Newbury-Darroll Powe. That threesome provided tremendous energy, started the Rangers comeback with a goal, and gave the Rangers a physical edge---part of a 47-hit performance by the team on Sunday. Asham's first-period goal was not only clutch, it came in his return to the lineup after missing nearly five weeks and 15 games due to a sore lower back.
By the looks of how the Rangers finished Sunday's game, it would seem that head coach John Tortorella will not deploy Rick Nash-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik on the top line together again. Midway through Sunday's contest the coach had flipped Chris Kreider with Gaborik, pointing out afterwards that Kreider was playing well and the Nash-Richards combo needed someone to go "chase down some pucks". Kreider was one of several Blueshirts forwards to have a strong game against the Caps, a list that included team captain Ryan Callahan, who pumped nine shots on goal. On defense Tortorella praised Michael Del Zotto as "our best player" in Sunday's match.
Tonight's game opens up a three-game road trip for the Rangers, who are certainly hoping not to replicate their three-games on the road two weeks ago when they lost in Buffalo, Winnipeg, and Pittsburgh by a combined 9-2 score. The Rangers are now 5-7-1 on the road this season, coming off last Tuesday's 3-2 win in New Jersey. The road trip this week continues in Ottawa and Montreal following this evening's game in Philly.
For the Flyers, this evening's game starts a critical five-game homestand. With 17 games to play and five points out of a playoff berth, the Flyers will be a desparate team tonight, for sure. However they will be without Daniel Briere, who is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. And they will be missing defenseman Nicklas Grossmann who has an upper body injury. Tye McGinn, who had three goals, five points, and 19 penalty minutes in 16 games earlier this season with the Flyers, was recalled from the minors to take Briere's spot on the roster.
The Rangers will have to contend with Jakub Voracek, however. The Flyers leading scorer (13-19-32, 8 PP goals) has had a hand in four of the five goals Philly has scored against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers in three games this season. Voracek has two goals and two assists---all on the power play---against New York in 2013.
It's an important game for both teams tonight in Philly. Will the Rangers pull off a big road win? Share your predictions below.