The hype of the Rangers-Flyers rivalry will come to a head at 3 p.m. Monday at Citizens Bank Park at the NHL’s Winter Classic. But before they drop the puck, Rangers beat writer Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News and Flyers beat writer Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer go back and forth on the rivalry leading up to the teams’ third matchup of the season:
CARCHIDI: “I give Flyers coach Peter Laviolette lots of credit for having the guts to start backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky over struggling Ilya Bryzgalov. It would have been easy to start Bryz because of what they spent on him ($51 million for nine years). Instead, Laviolette went with the hot goalie over the expensive one. Good for him. He is rewarding Bob for his recent play (1.55 GAA, .947 save percentage in his last eight games). Bryz has been a star on 24/7 but a flop in net. How do you think the goalie choice will affect the Rangers - if at all?”
LEONARD: “The Rangers felt Bryzgalov’s uneasiness at the Garden on Dec. 23. The first period was scoreless, but the Blueshirts believed if they threw enough pucks on net he would eventually cave, and the final score was 4-2 New York. The Rangers will prepare to face a different goaltender, but John Tortorella and the players publicly will say it doesn’t matter who’s in net for Philly, that they “just have to play our game.” In a sense, that’s how they have to think. The Rangers this season don’t normally lose because an opposing goaltender is standing on his head – when they go down, it’s because the opposing team is dominating puck possession and getting out in transition. When the Blueshirts control those two areas of the game, they win. When they don’t – like in Washington on Wednesday – they lose.”
CARCHIDI: “With Claude Giroux back in the lineup, it appears the Flyers have more firepower than the Rangers. What do you think?”
LEONARD: “You would think, but it hasn't translated in the head-to-head matchups. I will say this: Giroux is the most skilled playmaker right now on either roster. He may need to shoot more when these teams face off outdoors. When they Rangers have played the Flyers previously this season, the Blueshirts have just waited to funnel the other forwards outside once Giroux passes.
You know who has been a surprisingly consistent setup man for the Rangers? 21-year-old second-year center Derek Stepan. He may be the most impressive young offensive talent on either club. Or do you think the Flyers boast someone better?”
CARCHIDI: “Well, Giroux is obviously in his own stratosphere, but I assume you are not counting him (nope, he’s not). Matt Read and Sean Couturier have shown lots of promise, though Read has fallen off a bit after a hot start. But your point is well taken - plenty of exciting young players in this game.
Let's switch to the “oldies.” Is there a better almost-40 forward in the NHL right now than Jagr? To me, he has exceeded all expectations, on and off the ice.”
LEONARD: “Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson (39 years old, 27 points in 33 games) certainly is in the discussion, but I agree - Jagr (38 years old, 31 points in 32 games) is something special. The Flyers put a lot of faith in his ability to consistently produce when they signed him back to the NHL this offseason, and look what he's done - fed the points-beast that is Giroux and helped him grow, while also turning Scott Hartnell into a certifiable goal scorer. Jagr also has a magnetic personality and that presence to keep a franchise relevant and interesting - his history with the Rangers adds even more intrigue to the Winter Classic, which is why I'm confused how he hasn't been featured more on 24/7. Why do you think that is?”
CARCHIDI: “Funny you should say that, Pat. I was just saying the same thing on Wednesday to some of my colleagues: Why isn't Jagr a bigger part of 24/7? Perhaps HBO feels his thick accent makes it difficult for viewers to understand him. But there's no question the guy lights up a room with his stories. The thing I like best about Jagr is how he doesn't try to be politically correct like so many other players. He speaks his mind and is totally honest. Example: He said he's probably the only one who isn't looking forward to playing outdoors because of the elements.
Getting back to 24/7, Bryzgalov and Laviolette have clearly been the Flyers' stars of the series. Who gets your top two picks on the Rangers?”
LEONARD: “I have to go with their third-line center Brian Boyle and Liam Traynor, the Rangers' 10-year-old fan with cerebral palsy who is an inspiration to the club and has close relationships with both John Tortorella and Michael Del Zotto. Liam's story and smile when he talks about the Rangers were as heart-warming as it gets. I actually interviewed him for a story on Thursday night, and his Mom was talking about how he knew everything about the Rangers even how Del Zotto is a plus-23 right now. “Plus-25!” Liam yelled from the background. His mother laughed. Then when Liam got on the phone, he told me how he wears No. 4 in his sled-hockey league in Woodbridge, N.J., in honor of his favorite player, Del Zotto. “He's a good player, he’s nice to me, and he’s always caring and supporting me,” Liam said of Del Zotto, the Rangers' 21-year-old defenseman.
Back to the team, Boyle is genuine in real life, and he is the exact same person when the cameras are rolling. His Buddy the Elf get-up at Brad Richards' Christmas party, his returning home for the holiday and fitting right back in as No. 7 of 13 children really were great ways to show fans how human these players really are.
Boyle also is a great example of a Rangers player who does NOT have great stats but has played some of his best hockey lately, defensively and on the forecheck, to help the Blueshirts build three separate winning streaks of five or more games.
Which player(s) on the Flyers is invaluable for doing the little things but may fly under the radar because the stats aren't there?”
CARCHIDI: “There are several Flyers that fly under the radar, most notably defenseman Kimmo Timonen and center Max Talbot. Both are quietly having excellent years. Talbot is an expert penalty killer but he has surprisingly chipped in with 10 goals, and Timonen is having an all-star season. He is a great shot-blocker, and he is among the top defensemen in assists. There are plenty of other guys that fall into this category - Matt Carle, Sean Couturier, Braydon Coburn, etc.
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Predictions: Leonard has the Rangers winning in a shootout, 4-3. Carchidi has the Flyers winning on a goal by Danny Briere, 3-2. Your pick?
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Pat Leonard is the Rangers beat writer for the Daily News and can be found on The Blueshirts Blog on NYDN.com and on Twitter @NYDNRangers. Sam Carchidi is the Flyers beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and can be found on the Broad Street Bull blog on Philly.com and on Twitter @BroadStBull.
1. Blueshirts blog: http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/rangers
2. Pat’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/NYDNRangers
3. Broad Street Bull blog: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inqflyersreport/
4. Sam’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/BroadStBull