JR's Blog: Rangers, Flyers seek upper hand in Classic preview
The Flyers and Rangers have at it Friday night in a preview of the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic while a team on the other coast is going through a coaching change that better get them steered in the right direction. It's all on my mind this week, so read on …
There are 12 days until the Winter Classic and people are starting to really get excited, especially in the two cities.
Then to have such a storied event like the Winter Classic, which is played outside, such a traditional-feeling event, is fantastic.
These are two great teams to have in the Winter Classic, but first we have the last tune-up between the teams coming Friday night at Madison Square Garden. There's no doubt that the game is going to be extremely physical, emotional, and it's going to decide who gets the last upper hand before the big game on Jan. 2.
Let's start with the Flyers.
Claude Giroux, one of the better players in the League, has been out with a concussion, but he could be back Wednesday night and that's good news for them. However, they lost their best defenseman in Chris Pronger, and he's the guy that I believe is the biggest piece of glue on that team. He is the catalyst, the captain, and makes that defense 10 times stronger than it is without him.
Having Pronger out of the lineup for the rest of the year is a big loss for the Flyers.
That being said, they still have a very solid team.
I like this team because they are deep right through the lineup, but unfortunately I have not seen Ilya Bryzgalov play anywhere near how I thought he would. He has played probably 10 percent of the games the way he's capable, and I don't understand why that is. He's a much better goalie than how he's playing and I hope he picks up his game.
I was one who initially said that Philadelphia would be a great fit for him, and I've gone on air and said he is one of the better goalies in the League, but he has not played to that capability at all this year and, frankly, I'm pretty disappointed.
Now on to the Rangers, who impress me every night.
It's even more important things year with Michael Sauer out, Steve Eminger out and the fact that Marc Staal hasn't played all season. This is a defensive corps that continues to get injuries, but Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have stepped up and played well, and both Lundqvist and Martin Biron have been rocks in net.
The Rangers play well defensively as a team and they work hard as a team. That typifies the mentality of their coach. John Tortorella is the most emotional coach in the NHL and he shows it, and I love that about him. He has this team competing every single night, and I love that.
So, I've been mostly impressed by both teams. They're both battling -- battling elements, battling fatigue and battling injuries -- but they seem to keep getting points, which should lead to a very interesting and fun-filled Winter Classic. And, if we're lucky, they could end up playing each other in the playoffs, which could lead to a lot of bruising, a lot of pain, a lot of blood, but also a lot of entertainment.
The Los Angeles Kings are changing their coach and bringing in a drill sergeant.
Darryl Sutter is a drill sergeant that I played for, and a drill sergeant that I love and respect.
But he's taking over a team that is underachieving in a big way. There is too much talent on this team to be sputtering and not scoring goals the way they have been.
So, what they're doing is they're losing hockey games, and that leads me to believe the talent is not working hard enough in the proper areas, especially in the defensive area.
The Boston Bruins win games because they play well defensively. Everybody has a role, everybody respects the role and plays hard in that role. With Sutter coming to L.A., everybody is going to know their role and work hard to their role, or Sutter will not play you.
Sutter will let you know when he disapproves of your play, but he'll pat you on the back when you do well. He will be feared in that locker room. His facial expressions, the tone of his voice and the validation in his voice is going to make this team know that this is a big business and that business better be tended to night in and night out.
The Kings will know quickly that you better work hard in practice and in games, or you won't work at all. That's the Sutter mentality.
I think this team is in line for a wake-up call, and hopefully the players respond to it because what people don't know is the Los Angeles Kings have a passionate and big fan base, and they deserve to have the best of what Dean Lombardi is trying to build out there. He has brought in some good players and now it's time to win.