Jan 2, 2012, 2:32 PM EST
When it comes to regular season games, there is no greater buildup to a single outing in all of North American sports than that which precedes to the NHL’s Winter Classic. After all is said and done, the day has no more impact on the standings than the next game will, but don’t be fooled into thinking this one doesn’t matter far more.
There’s more spotlight than a Stanley Cup Final, and although every player on the ice would rather win the last game played in June, the first game of the calendar year is plenty important to them as well. Every teammate they’ve ever played with is watching. Every coach. Every family member (many of which will be in the stands).
This is a pride game, and on top of that, it’s a rivalry game. On a baseball field…
These teams hate each other. We didn’t need HBO’s 24/7 to tell us just how much; it’s been apparent as long as we’ve been watching. But, 24/7 has drawn us in that much more, helping us know today’s opponent far better than usual. The presence of HBO cameras also may have some impact on the game itself. We’d like to think not, but they’ve clearly been watching every episode and have had to answer for their on-camera actions in the daily media scrums.
For some, the heightened atmosphere could mean heightened play. For others, nerves could lead to mistakes.
The Flyers have skated in a Classic before, but that experience may not carry all that much weight given that so many of the guys in Orange & Black on that day are playing elsewhere today (only SEVEN are left). Plus, they’ll rely on a handful of rookies to help contain one of the league’s elite teams today.
The good news is, they’re pretty healthy and coming off perhaps their biggest win of the season. Aside from the loss of Chris Pronger and the fact that their usual starter is on the fritz, the Flyers will skate a full complement this afternoon. The Rangers get back Marc Staal, who will skate on the D’s third pairing per Torts (via Puck Daddy).
Not gonna get too far into the Keys to the Game because they’re probably fairly apparent. This isn’t an unknown rival.
•F New York. The Rangers own the series this season, but they are not head and shoulders a better team. They were playing better on those nights, and those nights are over. Both teams are on an island in the middle of a baseball field. This is the game we all wanted, no time to puss out and wish it was a cupcake. Our boys just need to go out and win it.
• Remember the CONSOL. The Flyers beat the Penguins in a game that Pittsburgh came amped up to win. That wasn’t some off night for the Pens. Both sides were attacking, and the Flyers had the firepower to win it. Same is true today.
•Bug Henrik. We’d rather this morning’s post have been about Henrik lacking confidence and Martin Biron getting the big start, but that’s just not anywhere near the case. He’s an elite goalie, and he’s had the Flyers number lately. He could use a little Hartnell/Simmonds love.
•Ramp Up the Momentum. The Flyers have been stung by early period goals, and it’s important not to concede early again today. It’ll be cold, and while 44,000 strong will be amped to the end, the momentum starting on the other side could cut sharper than even the 22 MPH wind. Not saying to come out with their sticks in their pockets, just don’t give up momentum early.
•The Best Player on the Ice Is a Flyer. Claude Giroux seems to get better with every game, and the big stage should suit him. The Rangers’ game plan will center on shutting the G Unit down though, so space will not come easy.
That’s about it for pregame stuff. We can’t wait to see this thing finally happen…
What are you looking forward to?
Who’ll be the difference for the Flyers?
LET’S GO FLYERS!
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