NHL Winter Classic 2012: 5 Keys to a Philadelphia Flyers Win

Joe RussomannoCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2011

NHL Winter Classic 2012: 5 Keys to a Philadelphia Flyers Win

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    The Winter Classic is taking North America by storm.

    The 24/7 HBO series exacerbates the drama going into the game.

    All the chatter of an outdoor regular season NHL game has me, like a lot of other people, not even worried about the NFL playoffs about to start. Who is in the playoffs, anyway?

    Oh well, moving right along. According to some writers, winning this game punches the victor's ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals in June.

    I beg to differ, considering how the Philadelphia Flyers themselves got within two games of a championship in 2010 after a historic playoff run and a Winter Classic defeat.

    Sure, first place in the conference could be on the line come Jan. 2. Tell me something—how well do all these top-seeded Eastern Conference teams fare in the postseason?

    If you need the Flyers to win this glorified outdoor game, for which Lord in heaven only knows what the weather will be come that day, then allow me to present the five keys to a Flyers victory.

Weather

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    Nasty weather. Yeah, that's right—I want a cold, damp, drizzling and windy, miserable day.

    Of course I'm watching the game from my sofa on a 40-inch LCD screen, so it's not bothering me.

    Those of you going to the game will want to throttle me if this comes true.

    However, playing indoors against the Rangers in the comfort of MSG hasn't been kind to the Flyers.

    I seriously doubt crowd noise will play a part in this game. The fair conditions inside have not helped the Flyers against the Rangers.

    That said, the Flyers are a team I still see—despite recent struggles and the Rangers recent success—as a team that can handle things when the going gets tough.

    Max Talbot played in the rain at last year's Winter Classic.

    I'm sorry, Rangers fans, but after watching 24/7 and seeing things like a teammate offering another a massage, one guy dressing the other in the hotel room and that ridiculous costume party, I can't see them playing well when they are battered by mother nature.

    With their comfort level taken away, I feel the Rangers game could slip.

    The Flyers are used to things being nasty.

    A 3-0 comeback against Boston in 2010 says as much. Although over a year removed from that epic series, a cohesive corp of players remain from that epic.

    James VanRiemsdyk and Claude Giroux came of age that year.

    Scottie Hartnell and Danny Briere were instrumental in that playoff run.

    For them, playing outside might be a breath of fresh air even if the weather is bad.

Get in Their Heads

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    Right now the Rangers are playing a couple notches higher than the Flyers.

    Considering this is a "classic" as a throwback to days of old when Hockey was played on frozen ponds, then perhaps the Flyers can use some "classic" strategy—fighting to throw the opposition of their game.

    By that I don't mean Jodey Shelley cruising over to Mike Rupp and asking him if he's looking for a fight then getting verbally abused left to limp on back to his bench.

    No, instead I mean Paul Holmgren reactivating Tom Sestito and letting him finish what he started in the two teams' previous meeting.

    In that contest Sestito pummeled New York's Brian Boyle. In another incident Sestito was seen verbally berating the Ranger's bench. You can read more on that exchange here.

    After watching both "enforcers" in action not only in the game but on last night's 24/7 episode, I'd say one is on the downswing of his career and the other is on the rise.

    To be effective at the enforcer role you have to irritate the other team. Sestito does that with his play, by causing havoc in NY's crease, running his mouth, and lulling the other team into a fight.

    Other players on the team should take notice and follow.

    Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, Marc Andre-Bourdon, Zac Rinaldo and Harry Zolniercyk need to engage, irritate and at times fight someone on the Rangers.

    This game needs to get out of hand if the Flyers can take the Rangers off their game.

    The League isn't going to mind this happening. A fight filled game for the hungover sports-minded masses will love it, skyrocketing ratings.

    Hopefully the Flyers' pugilists can get key players from the Rangers like Michael Del Zotto or Dan Girardi off the ice opening up room for Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr.

Defensive Zone Play

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    See Mike Krejci there going for a loose puck in front of Ilya Bryzgalov?

    The Flyers need to be more accountable down low in their own zone.

    After watching 24/7 last night I know Peter Laviolette sees what I see: soft defensive zone play.

    The Flyers are snake-bitten since Chris Pronger's absence of getting beaten down low.

    Down low and along the boards are where the other "fights" need to be won for a Flyer victory.

    Yes, Bryzgalov gives up some bad rebounds sometimes, but there should be someone there to clean up the garbage. After all, it is still a team sport, the last time I checked.

    One thing I don't agree with Laviolette on is blocking all these shots. Right now we don't need guys missing time with injuries because they broke a bone or suffer a concussion from blocking a shot.

    Some of this shot blocking is causing the funky deflections going into the Flyers' own net. Furthermore, in times when Ilya Bryzgalov can see the shot he does much better.

    Bryzgalov will be undergoing some extended maintenance this weekend according to Paul Holmgren this weekend.

    I suspect in his sessions with Jeff Reese, Bryz will relay to him what's working in front of him and what's not. Afterward Reese should be relaying back to Laviolette what the five guys need to do in front of their net minder.

    That's what coaches do; curtail their strategies to their players' strengths. Clearly this Flyers team plays a different style than what Bryzgalov saw in Phoenix.

    However, there's no reason he and the team can't make some adjustments.

Offensive Zone Play

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    Henrik Lundqvist is great goalie. He might be the best in the league, although I myself would consider Tim Thomas better.

    With that said, he still has a glaring weakness—he doesn't cope well with traffic in his crease.

    The goal in the video illustrates that.

    The Flyers are a team built to do just this.

    Scott Hartnell is a master of causing havoc and picking up the garbage rebounds or deflections.

    Wayne Simmonds is a player in that mold, and James VanRiemsdyk has a knack for it too when he feels like it.

    In the previous two meetings the Rangers kept most of the Flyers' scoring opportunities to the perimeter.

    Granted Andrej Mezaros scored on such a shot but Lundqvist was screened on the play meaning havoc was happening.

    In the Flyers' last outing they managed over 30 shots on net against Tampa Bay but only one goal, while Tampa got five goals on 16 shots.

    It sounds bad, but the thing is four of the five goals were from right outside the net. Chances like that are near-impossible to stop.

    The Flyers need to get back to playing this style of hockey in order to win.

Goaltending

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    This is a sore subject for Flyers fans these days.

    Here's the thing—you can either look at it as glass half empty or half full, and here is why.

    In 14 games Bryzgalov has won, he has a 1.95 goals-against average with a .932 save percentage

    In 12 that he's lost, he has a 4.42 GAA and .882 save percentage.

    That's pretty much night and day, but I think it's clear that something is working and something is not.

    Personally, I attribute this to his adjustment to the new team.

    Phoenix played a different style, and it is throwing Bryz off his game here in Philly.

    Bobrovsky shows flashes of brilliance at times and others looks like an undrafted rookie.

    The goal he gave up in Dallas illustrated that.

    If not for the loud ringing off the pipe, Bobrovsky had no idea where the puck was even when he was square to the shooter.

    That isn't the end of the world, but it just shows Bob isn't ready to be a full-time starter in the league.

    He still has room for improvement and could one day be an elite goaltender.

    Maybe it's something they can't fix right away. Fine, then, go ahead and start Bobrovsky if you think that will work better.

    The coaching staff needs to figure out what's working and what's not, then go from there.

    In any event, the goaltending has to be good enough to win, or just forget it.

    Thanks for reading—I hope you all enjoyed.

    Please feel free to leave questions or comments below!