With the fifth annual NHL Winter Classic just days away, the Philadelphia Flyers are searching for ways to get back at the New York Rangers, who topped the Flyers, 4-2, the last time the division rivals met on December 23.
But the Flyers have struggled to find ways to win as of late, losing four of their last five games, including a shootout loss to Colorado on Dec. 19. The Rangers, on the other hand, have won four out of their last five games.
Both teams boast impressive records—with the Flyers at 21-10-4 and the Rangers at 22-9-4—and are currently the top two teams in the Atlantic Division. As dominant Eastern Conference contenders, both teams have been proving their worth in the first half of the season.
But the Flyers’ recent skid and inconsistency has raised some eyebrows, and they will need to crank up the intensity in order to hang with the streaking Rangers.
Here are four players in particular that must step up and contribute in not only the Winter Classic, but in the second half of the 2011-12 NHL season.
James van Riemsdyk has provided the team with spark and timely goals all season long. In the midst of the Flyers' recent skid, van Riemsdyk has recorded only one point in the last five games. In order for the Flyers to be successful against the Rangers and in the long run, they need consistent play from van Riemsdyk.
Injuries have hampered his productivity this season, but expectations are high when the 22-year-old is healthy. He started the season out strong, with seven points in his first 11 games of the season. If he stays healthy for 2012, the Flyers should expect more playmaking and clutch scoring from van Riemsdyk.
Ilya Bryzgalov has had a rough holiday season, averaging over three goals against in the past four games, and has not won a game since Dec. 13. He was yanked in the second period of the 6-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 17 after giving up five goals on 20 shots.
But streakiness has defined Bryzgalov’s season thus far, as it has for the Flyers team as a whole. In the first half of December, Bryzgalov helped the team on a six-game winning streak, averaging just over two goals against per game. Yet Bryzgalov and the Flyers also experienced a five-game losing streak in the end of October after winning their first three games of the season.
Bryzgalov must find his rhythm and regain consistency to prove his worth in 2012.
Maxime Talbot is en route to having a career year, and that is just what the Flyers will need from him. He has recorded 15 points this season, but has also struggled in the month of December, with only three points. He has no points in the past five games.
Perhaps the Winter Classic will be a turning point for Talbot and the Flyers. Talbot played in last year’s Winter Classic as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. If playing against the Rangers isn’t enough, last year’s 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals in the Winter Classic should spark an offensive surge for Talbot.
In his first season as a Flyer, he has provided the team with instant contributions and is en route to match his stats from last season.
But Voracek has struggled in the month of December, netting only one goal and three assists. He had two goals and nine assists in November, including the game-winning goal against Montreal on Nov. 25.
In order to significantly help out a Flyers team on the brink of dominating the NHL, Voracek will need to have his best year yet and be consistent in 2012.
With Claude Giroux back in action, expect a turnaround for Voracek in January. The Flyers are depending on it.