The New York Rangers push for the Stanley Cup begins on Thursday when they square off against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.
The Flyers are known for their physical play. They are the NHL’s number one team in penalty minutes per game (14.4) and total penalty minutes (1180), number two in major (46) and minor (357) penalties, and rank third in game misconducts (6) and number of minutes spent killing penalties (483 minutes and 6 seconds).
Philadelphia is quite literally the NHL’s dirtiest team and it will likely cost them if this trend continues into the playoffs. All of the unnecessary penalties may eventually catch up to them and they will give up some goals which will cost them games.
The Rangers are the exact opposite of dirty. They rank twenty-first in penalty minutes per game (10), twenty-second in total penalty minutes (325), twenty-third in major penalties (27), and twentieth in minor penalties (284) and minutes spent killing penalties (438 minutes and 33 seconds).
The fact that the Blueshirts are so clean sometimes hurts them as their lack of physical play sometimes allows teams to rough up star players such as Henrik Lundqvist, Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash, and Brad Richards.
Offensively, the Flyers are much better than the Rangers. They finished eighth in the league in goals for per game (2.84) and power play percentage (19.7). Also, they have seven players who have 20 or more goals (Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Matt Read, Vincent Lecavalier, Scott Hartnell, and Brayden Schenn).
The Rangers meanwhile, rank eighteenth in goals for per game (2.61) and fifteenth in power play percentage (18.2), while they have only two players above the 20 goal mark (Rick Nash and Brad Richards).
Philadelphia is well above average offensively, while New York is in the middle of the pack. The Rangers will need a big performance from Nash or St. Louis to compete in this category.
Though the Flyers have more offensive weapons, this series will likely come down to defense and goaltending where the Rangers are much better.
The Rangers, who rely heavily on their defense, are twenty-sixth in the NHL in goals against per game (2.32) while the Flyers rank tenth (2.77). New York was also tied for third in the Eastern Conference in goal differential (goals for minus goals against) with a +25 mark. Philadelphia, on the other hand, finished seventh in the conference at +1.
The main key to this series will be goaltending, where the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist is one of the game’s best. His goals against average of 2.36, save percentage of .920, and 5 shutouts are numbers that would indicate a career season for most goalies. On the other hand, for Lundqvist they indicate a down year.
Steve Mason, who started 6o games for the Flyers during the regular season, may not be in net when the series begins on Thursday at Madison Square Garden as he left Saturday’s Flyers victory over the Penguins with an upper-body injury.
Aside from the fact that Mason put together a solid season (posting a 2.50 goals against average, a .917 save percentage, and 4 shutouts), the Flyers went 9-12-3 in games started by other goalies.
The bottom line is that Henrik Lundqvist is better than any goaltender the Flyers can possibly start, which will be the difference in the series.