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Looking at the Struggles Facing the Rangers and the Flyers This Season

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIMarch 24, 2013

Looking at the Struggles Facing the Rangers and the Flyers This Season

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    Both the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers entered the season with high expectations.

    It hasn't really worked out too well.

    The Rangers currently have 33 points and are eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have just 28 points and are 13th in the conference.

    What has happened to these two teams that were supposed to be battling for a Stanley Cup?

    We'll examine what has got the rivals struggling and provide an outlook for what might happen for the rest of the season.

New York Rangers

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    After the Rick Nash trade, the Rangers had high expectations, and rightfully so.

    While Nash has been everything they expected, they depth they lost in the offseason has not been made up.

    The Rangers lost a huge chunk of the roster that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. They simply have not made up for the losses of Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedetenko, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Ruslan Fedetenko.

    The guys they brought in to replace them have not panned out. Jeff Halpern was just waived and Arron Asham has played in only 13 games, averaging just over six minutes per game.

    Taylor Pyatt has cooled off considerably after a hot start, and has only six points. Brian Boyle has been a disaster, scoring just one goal and adding one assist.

    This has taken a huge toll on the penalty kill. This year, the penalty kill has been fine, killing off 82.5 percent of power play chances. But last season, they killed off 86.2 percent. That is emblematic of the depth they lost. 

    Without the depth, it's been hard for the Rangers to get scoring outside of Rick Nash. 

    Adding to the troubles is the struggles of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.

    Richards, who was so clutch for the Rangers last season, has scored just four goals and has only 11 assists. He's been benched a few times in the third period of games.

    After scoring 41 goals last season, Gaborik has just nine this year, and only four in the months of February and March.

    Without consistent secondary scoring options behind Nash, and without the depth and energy from the bottom six of the lineup, it's no surprise the Rangers are struggling.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers also came into this season with high expectations, but like the Rangers, it hasn't panned out. 

    One of the main reasons for the struggles has been injuries. Scott Hartnell has played in just 14 games, scoring two goals and adding three assists. Andrej Mezaros has played in just nine games.

    Some of their big stars are struggling. Danny Briere has just five goals and only five assists. Claude Giroux, the Flyers' best player, has only nine goals and 18 assists. Without Jaromir Jagr on his line, Giroux has had more defensive attention shifted to him, and he has struggled.

    But like always, the main weakness of the Flyers is the defense. They have given up 3.03 goals per game, which is 25th in the league. It is hard to field a top team when your defense cannot stop anyone.

    In addition, Ilya Bryzgalov continues his shaky play in net. He has a 2.79 goals against average and a horrid .898 save percentage. 

    Teams simply cannot win in the NHL with poor defense and shaky goaltending. The absence of Mezaros has hurt, but Bryzgalov has to be better. He's being paid $5.6 million through 2020 and he is starting to look like a cap albatross for the Flyers.

    Unless the Flyers can turn around the play in their own end, it could be a long rest of the season. 

Outlook

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    Going forward, the Rangers and Flyers are going to have to make some changes.

    For the Rangers, they are going to need to improve the bottom six of their lineup. Whether that is through a trade, or through a minor league call-up, the Rangers need more energy, grit and scoring from that part of their lineup.

    They need more consistent production from players not named Rick Nash or Ryan Callahan. The easiest way for this to be accomplished is for Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards to get back playing the consistent hockey they're used to.

    If they cannot do that, then a trade may be in order. The Rangers don't need another superstar—they just need consistency.

    As for the Flyers, it's quite simple—they need to get their defensive game in order. It's up to Ilya Bryzgalov to play like he did in Phoenix, where he posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.29 goals against average in 2009-10. If he can do that, and play to his capabilities, then the Flyers could start to make some headway.

    Staying healthy is important too, and Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere need to find their games. If they can, that will take pressure off of Claude Giroux, who will then have more ice to make plays.

    These changes are not incredibly difficult. We've seen flashes of these teams playing to their potential, but it just hasn't been consistent. Whether it's a major trade, or even a quality depth one, something needs to change for these teams to reach their potential.

    The Rangers are in a better position than the Flyers, because they have the better goaltending and defense. Henrik Lundqvist is putting in another typical season and the team is giving up only 2.37 goals per game, which is fifth-best in the league. If their offense can get in order, then there's no reason that they can't make the playoffs.

    The Flyers are in a bit of a deeper hole. For one, they are much further back in the standings. Also, it's more likely that the Rangers will start to score more goals than Ilya Bryzgalov will start to stop more shots. Bryzgalov has been bad for the past two seasons now, and the defense in front of him is much better. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards are proven stars who know how to put the puck in the back of the net.

    There's still time for both teams to put it together and make a run for the playoffs and beyond. But if they continue their current ways, they'll both have an earlier summer than expected. 

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