Last season, the New York Rangers completed the six-game series sweep of their rivals to the south, the Philadelphia Flyers, for the first time in 40 years. While Philadelphia had their issues handling New York all season long, the Blueshirts rose to the top of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, defeating their rivals to accomplish both feats.
What's to come during the 2012-13 season? Much of the same.
The Flyers have struck out on most of the deals they've tried all offseason, from entering into the Zach Parise sweepstakes to having Nashville match Philadelphia's offer sheet to restricted free agent Shea Weber. GM Paul Holmgren has seen a significant portion of his current defense corps go down with injuries, even after solidifying the back line by trading for Luke Schenn, Braden Schenn's brother.
Up I-95, the Rangers traded for sniper Rick Nash and replaced Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and John Mitchell with Talyor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern and Arron Asham. New York solidified depth in their lineup and fortified their top six with a legitimate, 30-goal threat.
There isn't much to suggest that Philadelphia will be able to figure out New York next season. Here are the reasons why.
Assuming RFA Michael Del Zotto signs a new deal with the Rangers, the team will have locked up its last remaining piece (UFA Steve Eminger doesn't look to be coming back). Barring another depth move, the Rangers have their six defenseman set for next season and has arguably one of the best defense corps in the NHL, one that finished third in the NHL in goals against (2.22).
New York will have Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal to deploy against the opposition's feared goal scorers. Del Zotto showed improvement on the defensive end last season, but will need to continue down that path. Anton Stralman proved to be a valuable pickup, playing important minutes for most of the season and in the playoffs. Stu Bickel showed fight and passion, but will need to show coach Tortorella that he can be trusted to play for more than three minutes a night.
All in all, New York's defense is top-10 in the league, at minimum. Philadelphia can't say the same.
The Flyers surrendered 2.74 goals a game last season—20th in the NHL—to go along with their below average goaltending on most nights. Chris Pronger's career seems to be over after suffering a devastating concussion. Matt Carle bolted down to Tampa Bay for a second tour of duty, forcing Holmgren to bring in depth players like Bruno Gervais. Andrej Mezsaros and Andreas Lilja will not be available at the beginning of the season due to offseason surgeries.
If you look at the depth chart, 37-year-old Kimmo Timmonen is Philadelphia's No. 1 defenseman at the moment. Wouldn't the team love to have a Ryan McDonagh of their own?
Unless the Flyers execute a deal to bring in some more defenseman, their team is going to struggle on a nightly basis to keep the puck out of the back of the net. The Rangers young defense will be a year older and have another year of experience under their collective belts.
If you recall, Henrik Lundqvist's mastery in net in 2011-12 was his best season to date, earning him his first ever Vezina Trophy in his fourth career nomination
Ilya Bryzgalov can't say the same about his season.
The Flyers netminder had an up and down year, finishing with a 33-16-7 record, a 2.48 goals against average, a .909 save percentage and six shutouts. These are espectable numbers, however, Bryzgalov's season-long consistency issues carried over into the playoffs, where he went 5-6 with a 3.46 goals-against average and .887 save percentage.
The numbers aren't kind to Philadelphia when you look at the season series.
While Lundqvist dominated Philadelphia (6-0, 1.83 GAA .942 sv 1 SO), Bryzgalov struggled against New York (0-3, 4.47 GAA .847 sv), only starting three out of the six games. What's interesting to note is that Bryzgalov had a very good season against the rest of the division, going 7-3-1 with a 2.32 goals-against average, .910 save percentage and three shutouts.
With a season in Philadelphia under his belt, Bryzgalov should be better and more comfortable with the Flyers next season. However, Lundqvist will still be a strong adversary and will have a much improved offense to help him in tight games, meaning Bryzgalov will have to focus even more if he wants to turn it around against his division rivals.