The wait is finally over, the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers will drop the puck at Citizens Bank Park this afternoon for the 2012 Winter Classic.
It’s a game that certainly has more meaning than the last two outdoor affairs, as the division rivals come in separated by just two points in the Eastern Conference. New York leads the East with 50 points, while the Flyers are fourth in the conference with 48.
Obviously, the biggest storyline heading into Monday’s game is on the Flyers side. Sergei Bobrovsky will get the nod in the cage over Ilya Bryzgalov. This doesn’t really come as a surprise, given Bryz’s struggles between the pipes this year, but the fact that the switch is coming in such a marquee game amplifies that news.
On the Rangers side, what was expected to be a non-story has turned into one of the biggest early morning headlines heading into the game. Marc Staal will be making his season debut on the Rangers’ blue line in the Winter Classic.
Staal was initially ruled out of the game because of his concussion like symptoms, but doctors, trainers, and Staal himself decided that he was ready to go. He’ll skate on the third pairing for the Blueshirts, forcing either Jeff Woywitka or Stu Bickel out of the lineup.
Unlike the Flyers team that they’ll be squaring off against on Monday, there isn’t any sort of goalie controversy for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist will take his usual spot in goal for New York. He’s been unbelievable again this year, and has allowed just two goals on 59 shots against Philly this season.
In any game like this, you’ll want to keep an eye on the marquee names as well. Brad Richards struggled offensively for much of December, but showed signs of breaking out of that with a strong showing against Florida on Friday, with a goal and an assist. It will be interesting to see if that was an indication of things to come.
The delayed start has only increased the anticipation for the grand event, which is now slated for the 3 o’clock puck drop, local time. With two of the NHL’s biggest rivals, in two of its biggest markets, we should be in for a hell of a game in the fifth Winter Classic.