Playoff preview: Rangers vs. Flyers

No. 3 Philadelphia Flyers (42-30-13) vs. No. 2 New York Rangers (45-31-6)

Philadelphia and New York split the season series 2-2.

Offense GVT

Flyers 13.9 GVT

Rangers -5 GVT

Advantage: Flyers 18.9 GVT

The Flyers will go as far as their offense takes them. One of the deepest in the NHL with their forward depth, the Flyers are able to roll out with four lines and feel confident about any matchup (the fact they can afford to play Vinny Lecavalier on the fourth line says a lot). The Flyers are led by their captain Claude Giroux, who after a paltry start (zero goals, seven assists in 15 games) roared back to finish third in the NHL in scoring and should earn a Hart Trophy nomination. Jake Voracek continues to make strides in his game as he set career highs in goals and assists. Their balanced lineup  includes seven 20-plus goal scorers and nine players with at least 10 goals. Philadelphia as a whole are a slightly below average possession team, so their advantage in scoring depth throughout their lineup against the Rangers is an opportunity that cannot be wasted if they hope to advance.

New York is led by their Olympian first line trio of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and recently acquired Marty St. Louis. Although Nash led the team with 26 goals, he saw his P/60 drop nearly a point from a season ago (2.72 to 1.82). On the other hand, Mats Zuccarello has seemingly come out of no where to lead the team in scoring while skating on the third line. The Rangers have the talent on paper, but the  production has been inconsistent most of the season. St. Louis has struggled to find his groove since forcing his way to the Big Apple and Brad Richards has continued to underwhelm with the Rangers. New York strong possession game does generate a lot of shots on goal, leading the NHL at 5v5 close. Capitalizing on their plethora of shots is another issue as the Rangers finished 28th in shooting percentage at even strength. If their low percentages begin to gravitate back toward the league average at the right time, Philadelphia is in trouble.

Defense GVT

Flyers – 7.2 GVT / Goaltending GVT– -0.2/ Total: -7.4

Rangers Defense GVT 11.7/Goaltending GVT 14.2/ Total 25.9

Advantage: Rangers 32.5

Since Chris Pronger went out with concussion related issues in 2011, the Flyers’ defense has generally been a mess. Outside of the ageless Kimmo Timonen and rebound year from Braydon Coburn, the defense has been a roller coaster ride all season. The late season addition of Andrew MacDonald has steadied the ship somewhat, but the defense continues to have issues exiting the zone and carrying the puck in general. Steve Mason has quieted detractors (for now) and put together a solid season in his first full year as a starter in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Mason has caught the injury bug at the worst possible time for the Flyers. Ray Emery has already been named the starter for Game 1 and despite better play recently, “Razor” still possessed one of the worst GVTs in the league at -2.6.

The Rangers’ backbone continues to be their defense and goaltending as they maintain a clear edge over the Flyers. Ryan McDonaugh appears to back to full health at the perfect time to lead a blue line corp that is already one of the best in the league. All six defensemen own positive possession numbers led by Anton Stralman with a relative corsi of 5.9%. The stingy Rangers defense is only fortified by one of the best goaltenders in the world, Henrik Lundqvist. After a rocky start coupled with nagging injuries, Lundqvist still managed to finish with a .930 even strength save percentage. New York will always like their chances to win as long as Lundqvist is tending goal.

Power Play and Penalty Kill GVT

Flyers 1.8 PP GVT (19.8% success) and 8.6 PK GVT (84.8% success)

Rangers 0.4 PP GVT (18.2% success) and 11.7 PK GVT (85.3% success)

Advantage: Rangers 1.7

Despite the GVT comparison, the Flyers’ special teams should have a slight advantage as it consists of two top-ten ranking units in the NHL. The power play is one of the more potent attacks in the league, headlined by Wayne Simmonds 15 power play goals. But their penalty killing team might be even more  impressive due to the high number of penalties the team takes year in and year out. Sean Couturier leads a unit that has killed nearly 85 percent of 316 short-handed opportunities.

The Rangers’ special teams are spearheaded by a penalty killing unit which ranks third in the NHL. With a power play unit that is middle of the pack at best, they need to take advantage of the numerous opportunities they will likely get against the penalty prone Flyers to make up for the lack of scoring at even strength.

Key Matchup

Couturier Line against the Nash Line

Couturier’s line has matched up against the opposition’s toughest competition all season long, so coach Craig Berube will no doubt make every effort in the world to try to contain Nash, Stepan and St. Louis. Couturier and Matt Read will need to slow down this line at even strength if the Flyers have hopes on advancing to the second round. New York doesn’t need a lot of offense to win games, but having the top line producing could go a long way in keeping the pressure off the other lines.

Key Stat: 0-8-0

The record above is the Flyers record at Madison Square Garden since February 2011.  The World’s Most Famous Arena has been a house of horrors for Philadelphia and the contests against the Rangers there have not been close. Teams often have to win two games on the road in order to advance in the playoffs so if the Flyers have prospects on playing into May, they need to win at MSG.

Prediction

These rivals meet in the postseason for the first time since the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals. There is no love lost between these cities and the intensity level will be off the charts. The Flyers’ offense will keep them in the series and even help them win a game at MSG. Alas, the superior possession game and goaltending of the Rangers will eventually overcome the relentless Flyers attack.

New York Rangers in six.

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