Welcome to the What to Watch segment! Your key NHL game to post on the radar for your holiday hockey viewing!
For this festive New Year pick I will have to go with the New York Rangers at the Philadelphia Flyers Monday January 2nd. It’s the game that we all look forward to every season – the NHL’s annual Winter Classic!
Keys to victory for the Rangers:
–The King will be in the Building: Henrik Lundqvist is the engine that keeps the Rangers rolling. As I write this, Lundqvist is playing out of his skin with a 16-7-4 record, 1.91 GAA, and a .937 Save %. In New York’s final tune-up for the Winter Classic, the ‘King’ was in top form with 27 saves, leading the Blueshirts to a 4-1 win over the Panthers Friday night. If he keeps playing like this, the Rangers will be a frustrating visiting side for the Philly fans come Monday.
–Nifty-Fifty: New York are currently 1st overall in the Eastern Conference with 50 points (23-9-4). Their 9 losses ties them with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins for the fewest in the entire league. What does this all mean – in a word – confidence! The Rangers are buying into what coach John Tortorella is selling, and the team believes it can win on any given night. This momentum and belief makes them dangerous outdoors on Monday.
–Holiday Visitors: The Rangers will have less pressure on the road for this one. The Flyers are the host for this outdoor extravaganza, which has become one of the key events of the entire NHL season. As the visitors, New York should have less distraction from family and friends, and can concentrate on two big road points.
Keys to victory for the Flyers:
–A Whole new Ball-Game: The Flyers will be more than excited to get on the ice at Citizens Bank Ball Park Monday. This excitement can be used in their favour to come out hard and physical, and use the vocal Philly crowd of 50,000 strong to overwhelm the Rangers. Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s top job will be to harness this adrenaline and keep the Flyers focused on the job at hand. If he can do this, then the home-team will be fine outdoors.
–45 and Counting: Claude Giroux has been the best Flyer player on the ice for most of the season. At the moment he leads the NHL in scoring with 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists). He did miss some time with a concussion, but seems to be back on track since his return. If Giroux is on form he can be dominant against any opponent, so if the mood and adrenaline line-up for him, he could be the big story of the Winter Classic.
–Which way is the Breeze Blowing: Ilya Bryzgalov was brought to Philadelphia in the offseason for big money. GM Paul Holmgren traded away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and Bryzgalov was to be the focal point of a new Flyers team. It hasn’t quite worked out for ‘Breeze’ as he’s had an up and down start to his career in orange, and his numbers aren’t blowing anyone away (14-8-3, 3.01 GAA, .890 Save %). That could all change for the colourful Russian if he can blank the Rangers and get the Philly faithful back on his side. He’s been a huge hit on HBO’s 24/7 coverage, all he needs now is a huge effort where it counts Monday.
-X-Factors: A lot of people are going to go over and over the ice conditions and weather forecast for Monday. As of this moment, the weather looks to be calling for some flurries and cool temperatures. The NHL’s ice-guru Dan Craig will have the standard of the playing surface at the highest level possible. Neither weather or ice conditions should be examined too much as both teams have to contend with both factors once the puck is dropped.
Enjoy this tilt Monday! It should be an interesting match-up between two Atlantic Division foes, and it’s always special when the Winter Classic rolls around. Post any comments or observations you have about the ‘What to Watch‘ game in the ‘Mailbag‘ section, and I will gladly respond! Have a great NHL New Year!
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