Black Friday: Rangers look to keep going minus McLeod at Flyers


The new traditional Black Friday game on NBC is here again. It’s the Rangers and Flyers in the City of Brotherly Love this afternoon at 1 PM. Tied in points (26) with the first place Blue Jackets, the Rangers bring the league’s hottest record (9-1-1 in last 11 games) into play at Wells Fargo Center.

A Thanksgiving Showdown has the classic Patrick Division rivals in a role reversal so far this year. While the Blueshirts have surprised many with their play, it’s been a struggle for the Flyers, who are 0-3-1 over the last four and 9-10-2 overall with their 20 points putting them in last place. They’re tied with the Devils and Penguins in points, but by virtue of one more game played, sit eighth in the Metro Division.

For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist returns to the net following a rare game off with backup Alexandar Georgiev making 29 saves for his first career shutout in 5-0 win over the Islanders on Turkey Eve. So far this season, the 36-year old Lundqvist has performed well, bringing a 8-6-2 record into play with a 2.61 GAA and .919 save percentage in 17 games played.

Coach David Quinn hasn’t decided if Lundqvist will make both starts this weekend with another matinee in Washington tomorrow at 2 PM. Let’s see how today goes first.

In Wednesday’s victory, the team lost Cody McLeod to a fractured left hand sustained in a second period fight with Isles’ tough guy Ross Johnston. He was seen holding it as he left the rink. Ironically, the game in which he scored his first goal as a Ranger he got injured in. Bad luck. The team has fared well when he’s played. With McLeod in the lineup, their record is 11-5-0.

Without him, the lineup should look different. Quinn is hoping Mats Zuccarello can return from a groin strain so they don’t have to call up anyone from Hartford. Zuccarello has missed six of the last seven games due to the injury. For the season, he has three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 16 games.

If he can’t go, the likely candidates to come up are Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, Matt Beleskey, or Tim Gettinger. Ville Meskanen could be another option. It would depend on what the organization prefers. Beleskey could fill the same role as McLeod. He’s tough and physical. However, Nieves, Gettinger and Meskanen can skate, giving the fourth line more versatility.

Assuming Zuccarello is ready, Quinn could just slide Jesper Fast down to the fourth line. A move that makes sense given his offensive struggles. He’s better suited in a secondary role anyway. It’s my belief that having Fast with Lias Andersson would be a good combination because both are good skaters who can forecheck.

With Tony DeAngelo picking up a primary helper on McLeod’s goal, he should stay in the lineup on a defense that got Brady Skjei back after a two-game absence. Brendan Smith is likely the odd man out for now despite doing nothing wrong in his recent two games.

Here is a projected lineup with Zuccarello:

Namestnikov-Zibanejad-Zuccarello

Kreider-Hayes-Chytil

Vesey-Howden-Strome

Fogarty-Andersson-Fast

Staal-Pionk

Skjei-DeAngelo

Claesson-Shattenkirk

Lundqvist

Georgiev

A couple of other notes. Filip Chytil looks to extend his goal streak. The 19-year old teenager is currently at five, joining some exclusive company.

Ryan Strome picked up his first point as a Ranger when he tallied an assist on McLeod’s goal. He has been fine on the new third line with Brett Howden and Jimmy Vesey. What I like so far is his attention to detail. He came back hard defensively to break up a play against his former team that drafted him. Maybe the change of scenery will spark Strome.

Chris Kreider continues to play the best hockey of his career. His goal and assist on Wednesday gave him six goals and five assists in the last eight games. He currently leads the Rangers in goals (12), points (20) and power play goals (5).

With a goal that made it 4-0, Kevin Hayes is up to 14 points (5-9-14). While that may not seem like much, the two-way pivot has tallied nine points (2-7-9) over the past eight games. He’s a plus-eight over that span. If you stretch it back to Oct. 30, he is 3-8-11 in the past 11. That coincides with the team’s 9-1-1 run. It’s not a coincidence.

Neal Pionk scored a power play goal against the Isles. It was his second PPG and 11th power play point. His 11 PPP place him in a tie for third in the league. Eleven of his 14 points (4-10-14) have come on the man-advantage.

With a helper on Pionk’s goal, Vladislav Namestnikov has three points (1-2-3) over the past four games. He’s found his game since sitting out once. He’s got two goals with five helpers entering today’s match.

On the Flyers’ side, Calvin Pickard gets the start. Without starting goalie Brian Elliott, it’s been a real struggle. Before an injury sidelined him in a loss to the Devils on Nov. 15, Elliott had allowed two goals or less in his last seven appearances (six starts). Following a slow start by the team, the 33-year old veteran had performed well by posting a 6-7-0 record with a 2.59 GAA and .911 save percentage over 14 games.

Without backup Michal Neuvirth, Pickard is the third string goalie filling in. Despite a 4.13 GAA and .858 save percentage, he’s 3-1-2 in nine games (six starts). In a ugly 5-2 loss to Buffalo on Wednesday, he relieved an ineffective Alex Lyon (4 GA on 12 shots) finishing with eight saves. In his last start against Tampa Bay, he allowed six goals on 26 shots in a blowout loss.

Claude Giroux leads the Flyers in scoring with 25 points (9-16-25). A terrific player, he just surpassed 700 points for his career. The former 2006 Philadelphia first round pick taken 22nd overall, has 222 goals and 480 assists for 702 points in 759 games. Particularly dangerous in transition and at making plays for teammates, he plays on the top line with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny.

Wayne Simmonds has scored in his last two games. Always a tough player to move away from the net, he’s given the Rangers fits. The defense will have to do a good job boxing out and lifting his stick. Here are the Flyers projected lines:

Giroux-Couturier-Konecny

Lindblom-Patrick-Voracek

van Riemsdyk-Weal-Simmonds

Weise-Laughton-Lehtera

Provorov-Hagg

Sanheim-Gudas

Pickard

Lyon

Gostisbehere-Frolin

A couple of quick notes. The Flyers are clearly underperforming. Jakub Voracek has 17 points (5-12-17) and is a minus-eight. Konecny only has five goals and six assists. Shayne Gostisbehere is a minus-13 with 11 points (3-8-11). Ivan Provorov has been a huge disappointment with only seven points (2-5-7) so far. No wonder my the current state of my fantasy hockey team sucks. Nolan Patrick has five goals and none have come on the power play.

These are all key performers who at any moment, can turn it around. Dale Weise usually shows up in these games against the team that drafted him. Former players always get up for these games.

The point is the Flyers shouldn’t be taken lightly. As poorly as they’ve played, they’re fully capable of getting hot. James van Riemsdyk recently returned. He has a goal and three assists in five games.

It’s advisable for the Rangers not to get in a track meet. They also must stay disciplined. The Flyers have one of the worst penalty kills. The key is to skate and attack their D. Draw penalties. Make them work. If they do that, they’ll win.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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