The 2012 NHL Winter Classic is set to take place on Monday, January 2 from Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pa. This year the Philadelphia Flyers will face the New York Rangers in a showdown between two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
This year will mark the fifth consecutive year that the NHL has presented the Winter Classic, and as in the past, they have elected to focus on two teams that have had a heated rivalry throughout the years.
While it is true that the Rangers have been an NHL team much longer than the Flyers, proximity, style and hometown pride have all factored into the development of this rivalry.
The Rivalry and History
It’s hard to trace exactly where and when the rivalry between the Flyers and the Rangers began. In fact, the rivalry may have been predestined due to the nature of the cities themselves.
The Big Apple, all glamour and glitz, “the city that never sleeps,” versus the blue-collar, working-class pride of Philadelphia.
No matter when the rivalry began, it heated up during the 1974 playoffs when the Flyers defeated the Rangers four games to three, with the home team walking away with the win in each of the seven games. The playoff victory would mark the first time an expansion team had defeated an original-six team during the playoffs, a fact that could not have sat well with the Rangers and their proud fanbase.
The Flyers would use the momentum of defeating the Rangers to become the first expansion team to raise the Stanley Cup when they defeated another original-six team, the Boston Bruins.
The most recent flare-up in the rivalry occurred during the final game of the 2010 season. The Flyers defeated the Rangers via the shootout, earning a spot in the playoffs while sending the Rangers players to the golf links a bit earlier than they would have liked.
The Flyers have a slight advantage in the overall series, compiling a record of 114-112-37. As far as the playoffs are concerned, the teams have met in a total of 10 series, with the Flyers getting the best of the Rangers on six occasions.
The Rangers have controlled the regular season series this year, winning both games. In fact, the Rangers have won the last four games, with the last Flyers victory coming back in February 2011. Prior to the Rangers winning streak, the Flyers ran off five-straight victories of their own.
As of the time of this writing, the Flyers power play is clicking at 19.1 percent, while the Rangers is scoring at 15.3 percent. The Flyers are ranked 11th in the power play, while the Rangers are ranked 21st. Through 35 games, the Flyers have netted 31 power-play goals on 162 chances—second only to the Vancouver Canucks—while the Rangers have scored 21 goals on 137 chances.
On the other side of the coin, the Rangers have the superior penalty kill, sitting in the No. 6 spot, keeping the puck out of their net 85.6 percent of the time. The Flyers, on the other hand, sit in the 15th spot with a penalty-kill percentage of 82.1.
As far as shorthanded goals, the Rangers have five, while the Flyers have three.
You would think that with the superior stats in the power play that the Flyers would have an advantage, but that advantage is largely negated by the fact that the Flyers seem to be drawn to the penalty box. The Flyers have taken a league-leading 188 minor penalties, as compared to the Rangers' 150. To put the Flyers affinity for penalties in perspective, the second highest total is 166, a number shared by the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars.
Advantage: Slightly to the Flyers
The Flyers went out on a limb over the summer and inked Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year $51-million contract. A risky proposition in the eyes of many.
The deal has not exactly paid off for the Flyers; Bryzgalov’s goals-against average of 3.01 ranks him 53rd in the NHL, and his .890 save percentage puts him at 63rd.
The Rangers, on the other hand, have Henrik Lundqvist in net, who is rolling along with a GAA of 1.95 and a save percentage of .936, both of which rank him 10th in the league.
Advantage: Clearly Goes to the Rangers
The Flyers are averaging 3.40 goals per game, which puts them in second place in the NHL. The Rangers, on the other hand, are ranked 10th with a goals-per-game average of 2.94. As far as total goals are concerned, the Flyers have netted 119 compared to the Rangers 102.
The Flyers have the NHL’s leading scorer on their club in Claude Giroux, while the Rangers counter with Marian Gaborik, who is tied for the league lead in goals with 22.
The Flyers defense took a big hit when they lost Chris Pronger. By the same token, the Rangers have been without Marc Staal for an extended period of time.
With that in mind, neither team can use the loss of a star player as an excuse for poor defensive play. As a team, the Rangers have the superior plus-minus, ranking third in the NHL with a plus-26. The Flyers are still a top-ten team with a plus-15 ranking.
It should also be noted that the Rangers are getting things done with a pretty thin defensive staff; injuries have really impacted the team.
As of now, the forecast for Monday is a high of 41 degrees, partly cloudy/windy—not terrible conditions, and probably better than a sunny day, which would have the ice throwing some pretty harsh deflections.
Advantage: Maybe the Flyers as They Have Played Outdoors Previously
If you are lacking a ticket for the game, well, hopefully you have a decent amount of disposable income.
The cheapest ticket that StubHub has to offer you is $350, and that puts you deep in the outfield of the park. If you’re looking for something a little more, shall we say, inside, you can score a ticket in the first row of the Hall of Fame Club for $2,500.
Advantage: Not Anyone That Is Looking for a Ticket
The Flyers will be at home, and they’ll be looking to impress the Philly faithful in this game. While NHL.com is reporting that an EA Sports simulation of the game gives it to the Flyers, I don’t see it going their way. I predict King Henrik will live up to his billing and earn the victory.