UPDATE: Valley in. Malik in, Mara out. Possible line reconfig: Straka back to the first line, Avery back to the second line with Shanahan and Dubinsky, leaving Drury with the line he centered early in the season between Prucha and Dawes. Thanks to Steve Zipay reporting in Blue Notes from the morning skate.
The deck is stacked against the Rangers as they head into Philadelphia tonight for the first of three games in less than four days. The Flyers are 12-2-1 since Christmas (their only two losses in regulation to the Devils) and are 5-1-1 in their last seven home games. In their last eleven, they have scored three or more goals in each game (averaging 4.36 goals per game), they have converted one in three power plays (19-57), and have allowed a respectable five power play goals in 36 times short (14%) if you exclude one bad 5-8 night vs. New Jersey.
The Rangers, by contrast, are winless on the road in 2008 (0-4-2, bookending an 0-5-1 start on the road, their 7-2-3 record in between a distant memory). They have been outscored 19-10 in those games. While their power play, free of home fans beseeching them to shoot every time they touch the puck, scored in each of their last four road games (4-20, as opposed to 0-27 in their last six at home), their penalty killing has been awful, allowing opponents to convert at a 25% rate (8-36, compared to 18% on 5-28 at home). That will be a huge problem against the league's top power play, especially if Steve Valiquette gets the call in net.
There is some good news hidden in the numbers. The Rangers, who seem to lose mainly because of lack of intensity, are able to get themselves up for divisional games -- when they come in bunches, which is the case the rest of the way. They went 10-3 against divisional rivals during a 26-game stretch in which half their games were within the Atlantic, outscoring their opponents 32-19. On the flip side, they lost their only divisional contest in their first seven games and have lost the only two divisional contests they have played in their last 19. Beginning tonight, half of their 32 remaining games are against Atlantic foes -- the so-called four-point games where a win not only gains two points but also denies rivals two points (except when the stupid extra point comes into play).
If the Rangers are to get going, they're going to need some help from Chris Drury. They paid him the big bucks not for any gaudy numbers, but for clutch play. This playoff push requires more of him than the two goals, two assists, and -6 he has compiled in 13 games in 2008. Those four points rank him sixth among Ranger forwards in that time. Three defensemen have scored as much or more. Three other forwards are just a point behind despite playing less than the full complement of games, and all three were his linemates most or part of that time. He is currently on pace for his second-worst season of point production since his rookie season, his worst NHL season in goal production, and a +/- more than twice as bad as his career worst.
In the news, a report on the Rangers being driven to the net by their coach and his consideration of starting Valiquette in the Post, Newsday, and Blue Notes. The Daily News considers where the Rangers might look for help, which includes getting a center that would allow Drury to move to the wing and perhaps get his game together. NYR.com and Rangerland have game previews -- funny stuff elsewhere at Rangerland. Greg Cimillucca of CBS Sports thinks the Rangers can repeat last year's playoff run. Howlings previews the Pack's next game. Chris Holt didn't get any support in Charlotte's latest loss. And Prospect Park names the Rangers' prospect of the week.