The Philadelphia Flyers have yet to beat the New York Rangers in a game of ice hockey this 2011-12 NHL season, and as the two Atlantic Division rivals prepare to take things outside for Monday's Winter Classic, there's a general sense that it's a much more serious game than we've seen in previous seasons.
Not that last year's game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals lacked in the competitiveness department, or that the 2010, 2009 and 2008 games lacked there either. But this year's edition just seems like there's a whole lot more on the line.
Then again, that's probably because there is a whole lot more on the line. The winner of Monday's game will grab the top spot in the Atlantic and in the Eastern Conference, a spot currently held by the Rangers. And while New York has taken both games in the series so far this season, all of that gets thrown out the window on Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. when the teams take the ice at Citizens Bank Park.
Here are a few factors to consider now that we're taking this rivalry outside.
It's going to be a windy day in Philadelphia, and Eric Lindros told current Flyer Zac Rinaldo after the Alumni Game on Saturday about how that wind impacts the game.
LINDROS: It's getting colder the next couple days, but as soon as that wind picked up...
RINALDO: Can you feel the wind? Even with the glass there and stuff like that?
LINDROS: Yeah, you can feel the wind a little bit. You can feel it coming through, and the ice started to tighten a little bit. It was good. Yeah, it's conducive. You guys will be able to play.
So that's the good news, that the wind seems to help the quality of the ice a bit. On the flip side, weather.com reports that the winds are going to be moving west-southwest Monday, meaning they'll basically be pushing towards the third base side of the baseball diamond.
The team that shoots at that end in the latter half of the third period could have an edge as they try to make a final drive in what expects to be a close hockey game. The teams will switch ends midway through the third period to try to eliminate any competitive edge, but when push comes to shove, one team will likely be aided with the wind at their backs in the waning minutes of the hockey game.
These two teams absolutely hate each other, and while they've generally been pretty disciplined against each other so far this season, that doesn't mean the games have been physical. It won't be terribly cold on Monday afternoon, with game time temperatures estimated at about 41 degrees, dropping off to just about 37 degrees over the course of the game, but it'll obviously be substantially colder than the typical indoor game.
How will the elements impact the physical play between the teams? Whenever these two teams get together, you can guarantee that the game will be hard-hitting, and those hits can feel absolutely bone-crunching when you factor in the wind and the cold. Teams often talk about wearing down the opposition, and in an outdoor game, the team that's in front of the physical battle could have even more of an edge than usual.
SERGEI BOBROVSKY GETS THE START
There's no question in the New York crease, as Henrik Lundqvist looks to keep up his hot play of late. He'll likely do just that outdoors on Monday. But across the ice in the Philadelphia crease, there are question marks. And all of them are being answered by backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bob will get the start over the $51 million man, Ilya Bryzgalov, in the big game Monday afternoon, a sign from coach Peter Laviolette that symbolism means nothing and this is a game the Flyers need to win. By starting Bobrovsky, Laviolette is assuring his team the best chance to do just that, as Bryzgalov has played awful hockey lately. Bob, on the other hand, has played very well, most recently defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.
Can Bobrovsky keep up that success under the bright Citizens Bank Park lights? Will the outdoors affect him at all? He's been providing solid answers to these questions of late, and if can keep doing that in the Winter Classic, he'll make his coach look damn smart.
HOME ICE EDGE?
The Flyers can't beat the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers can't beat the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. But what about at Citizens Bank Park?
Perhaps the one downside to hosting a Winter Classic is that it doesn't necessarily feel like a home game, even though this game will be played in Philadelphia in front of a mostly orange-clad crowd. And you also lose all the comforts of knowing your home ice. The ice at the ballpark has only existed for about a week, and both the Flyers and Rangers have had equal time to figure out its quirks.
Sure, the Flyers still get the last change and all the strategic positives of playing a home game, but when you take the game outside, the impact of such things becomes much less obvious. Is there really a home ice edge in a Winter Classic? Not really.
CLAUDE GIROUX PACES THE FLYERS
If there's one thing that stands out in the two Rangers vs. Flyers games so far this year, it's the invisibility of the NHL's leading scorer, Claude Giroux. (Okay, technically he's one point behind Henrik Sedin heading into Monday's action, but he's played 32 games to Sedin's 39, so we can probably let that slide.)
Giroux has been held completely scoreless -- not a goal, not an assist -- against New York this season. The Rangers have done a solid job in shutting him down, as they've also done with Jaromir Jagr (no points in one game) and Scott Hartnell (one assist, of the secondary variety and on the power play, in two games).
If the Flyers want to have any chance against such a solid defensive team in the Rangers, their top scorers have to get on the board. Both teams can worry about the elements and the ice conditions and the atmosphere all they'd like, but in the end, it all really does come back to hockey.
For more on this year's Winter Classic, head over to SB Nation's Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter and Flyers blog Broad Street Hockey. For everything Winter Classic in the build-up to the game, head over to our NHL Winter Classic StoryStream.