While recent criticism and benchings by coach John Tortorella may have sparked the Rangers, the Flyers are still in a downward spiral.
Both teams reached the playoffs last season, only to be eliminated in the opening round. The Atlantic Division rivals entered 2009-10 looking to build on their respective finishes, but they both are outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday afternoon’s game.
New York (15-16-3) is tied for third in the Atlantic Division with the New York Islanders, one point ahead of last-place Philadelphia (15-16-2).
The Rangers, though, are looking to build on Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Islanders that salvaged a split of their home-and-home series. Tortorella blasted his players in an expletive-laced tirade following Wednesday’s loss and benched defenseman Wade Redden(notes) and right wing Ales Kotalik(notes) to jumpstart his team.
“It is late December and the important thing is for us to become a team and play as a team and play for one another,” Tortorella said after Thursday’s victory, which halted a five-game slide. “I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.”
With the two veterans benched, New York got goals from four players, as Ryan Callahan(notes) had two and added two assists while Marian Gaborik(notes) netted his league-leading 24th. Chris Drury(notes), who was demoted to the fourth line, ended a 19-game goalless drought with his third of the season in the victory.
“The only thing that resonates with me is going home with the two points. That’s it,” said Drury, the team captain.
The Rangers’ offensive burst came after they were held to two goals or fewer in seven consecutive games and 17 of 21. During their 1-6-2 stretch before Thursday, the Rangers netted only 15 goals and hadn’t managed more than three since beating Columbus 7-4 on Nov. 23.
New York, though, took four of six meetings with Philadelphia last season, winning two of three at the Wachovia Center to improve to 13-2-1 there in the last 16 visits.
The Flyers have dropped 12 of 15 (3-11-1) after falling 3-2 in a shootout to Pittsburgh on Thursday to get swept in the home-and-home set by the Penguins for the first time since September 1992. Following Tuesday’s 6-1 loss at Pittsburgh, Flyers captain Mike Richards(notes) said the team wasn’t “playing with enough heart right now to win.”
Richards felt Thursday’s performance was an improvement.
“We played much better, and did a lot of good things,” Richards said. “It’s still frustrating to not get the win. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. We’ve got to keep it going on Saturday, build off of this, and not have a let-down like we have in the last couple of games after playing a good game.”
Richards, who leads the Flyers with 13 goals and 27 points, is trying to shake out of a scoring slump. The center has been held to two assists in his last five games.
He has, however, scored three goals in the last four home meetings with the Rangers.