3 Reasons the Philadelphia Flyers Will Finish Ahead of the N.Y. Rangers

Dan Fremuth@@hometownphanContributor IIIAugust 29, 2012

3 Reasons the Philadelphia Flyers Will Finish Ahead of the N.Y. Rangers

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    The Atlantic Division was the class of the NHL's Eastern Conference last season.

    Excluding the New York Islanders, each team finished the regular season with more than 100 standings points. The New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers recorded the three highest standings point totals in the entire conference.

    And despite yet another offseason of movement and transition, the Atlantic Division is shaping up to be one of hockey's truly elite divisions again next season.

    The Flyers had zero success against the rival Rangers last season (winless in six meetings). Even though New York made the biggest splash in the conference this summer acquiring Rick Nash from Columbus, there's still hope for Philly against the Blue Shirts.

    Here are the three biggest reasons why.

Claude Giroux

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    In a conference filled with stars, the Flyers have one of the brightest.

    When healthy, Sidney Crosby is probably still the best player in the game today. Evgeni Malkin is the reigning Hart Trophy winner as the league's most valuable player. But in Giroux, Philadelphia has the game's fastest rising star.

    For the second year in a row, Giroux led all Flyers in scoring last season and finished third among all NHLers with 93 points. No skater recorded more power play points (38) than Giroux last season and no player in the Eastern Conference notched more helpers (65) during the regular season.

    Unlike some of the other elite players in the game, Giroux plays in all situations. On top of his incredible offensive abilities, the Hearst, Ontario native has proven to be one of the game's top two-way forwards and is just as dangerous without the puck as he is with it.

    He sees a boat load of even strength minutes, is the centerpiece of Philadelphia's power play and is a regular defender and contributor on the team's penalty kill.

    And at just 24-years-old, Giroux stands to only get better.

    New York already boasts of the conference's best playmakers in Brad Richards and acquired this summer one of the game's pure snipers in Nash. The Rangers may even have helped to revitalize the enigmatic Marian Gaborik.

    Even with all of that talent, the Flyers will still boast the best player on the ice each and every time Philly and New York square off.

    Giroux has shown he's willing to do whatever it takes to push his team to victory. It's that competitive edge coupled with his ridiculous offensive skills that will push the Orange and Black ahead of the Blue Shirts. 

Forward Depth

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    While questions may continue to linger about the Flyers' defense, there's no concern about the team's ability to produce on offense.

    Philadelphia finished third among all NHL clubs last season in goals scored with 264 conversions. New York, despite finishing first overall in the East, finished eighth in the conference with just 226 goals.

    The Rangers went through long stretches last season where goals were hard to come by. That prompted New York to jettison two young, promising forwards in Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov to Columbus in exchange for Nash.

    The dynamic former Blue Jacket will certainly make the Rangers more explosive up front but New York still doesn't have nearly the offensive depth that can be found in Philly.

    The Flyers' roster currently features nine different forwards who registered 20 or more points last season, including six skaters who tallied 40 or more points a year ago. What's more, Philly's roster boasts nine forwards who were double-digit goal producers last season.

    Meanwhile, New York's roster heading into the upcoming season features just seven forwards who notched 20 or more points last season and just five who tallied 40 or more points last year. The Rangers also only showcase seven double-digit goal scorers from a season ago.

    What's even more encouraging for the Orange and Black is the fact that Philly's forwards are largely younger than those of the Rangers.

    The average age of Philadelphia's nine 20-point producers from a season ago is 26.7 while the average age of New York's seven 20-point scorers last year is 27.1

    The Flyers will continue to be able to roll four effective lines while the Rangers will need to rely on several standout forwards like Nash, Gaborik and Richards.

    Depth may not look all that sexy on paper but it wins hockey games. And with the kind of depth Philadelphia has the Flyers should be well suited to win more than their fair share of games against the Rangers. 

Power Play

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    The power play was a tremendous area of the strength for the Flyers last season and figures to be so again this year.

    Philly posted the second-best man-advantage in the Eastern Conference last season and the NHL's sixth-best power play overall at 19.7 percent. No team enjoyed more power plays (335) than the Flyers last season and no team produced more man-advantage markers (66) than the boys in Philly.

    The loss of Jaromir Jagr to Dallas through free agency will hurt a little but the big pieces of Philadelphia's power play still remain. With all the time and space available during a man-advantage, it's hard to see how names like Giroux, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds don't carve up opposing teams.

    While the Flyers' power play was among the NHL's more explosive units, the Rangers' man-advantage was one of the league's weakest.

    New York's power play finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last season and 23rd overall after converting on just 15.7 percent of its opportunities throughout the season.

    While the Rangers' man-advantage improved in the postseason (17.8 percent), Philly's power play exploded in the playoffs converting 35.7 percent of its man-advantage chances.

    New York's power play should improve with the addition of Nash but the Rangers will likely still rely heavily on one power play unit for most of its production while the Flyers should continue to rotate a pair of five-man units that are capable of producing with the man-advantage.