The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers figured to form a matchup of rising Eastern Conference contenders at the Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Fenway Park, but neither team's season has gone exactly as planned.
While the Bruins have turned around their sluggish start, the Flyers are still having major problems entering Monday's visit to Boston, which will serve as a preview of the NHL's next outdoor game.
Following a surge to the top of the East last season, the Bruins (16-9-6) battled injuries and inconsistency through the first several weeks this fall, but they're 8-1-2 in their last 11 games to return to playoff position.
The Flyers (14-15-1) have had much bigger problems, especially during a 2-10-0 stretch that has included the firing of head coach John Stevens. The hiring of former Bruins assistant Peter Laviolette hasn't immediately helped, with the team going 1-4-0 in the Massachusetts native's first five games.
With young stars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter leading the way, Philadelphia was tied for fourth in the NHL with 3.17 goals per game in 2008-09, reaching the playoffs for the second straight spring.
That increased the Flyers' allure as the selection as Boston's opponent for the upcoming New Year's Day game, but their offense has been lacking lately. Philadelphia has scored two goals or fewer in eight of its last nine games, including a 4-1 loss at New Jersey on Saturday.
"We've got to take whatever we can out of (Saturday) and use what little positives there were, and try to build on it," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "If you continue to beat yourself down, you only drive yourself further into a hole. We've got to pick one another up in here. We've got to start acting as team."
Philadelphia has been playing without goalie Ray Emery, who had abdominal surgery Wednesday and will miss several weeks. Backup Brian Boucher has lost five of his last six starts.
Boston, meanwhile, has emerged with one of the best goaltending tandems in the league after the emergence of 22-year-old Tuukka Rask to complement reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas.
Rask has seen a bump in playing time lately, going 6-0-1 in seven starts since mid-November. Thomas was in net for Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss at the New York Islanders, as the Bruins couldn't break a tie despite a 17-3 edge in third-period shots.
"From our end of it, it's hard to criticize your team with that type of effort," Bruins coach Claude Julien told his team's official Web site. "It was one of those nights where, as hard as we tried to score goals, (New York goalie Dwayne Roloson) just stood tall."
Boston's offense has recently recovered from its early-season struggles, scoring 12 goals in back-to-back wins over Toronto before Saturday's loss. Center David Krejci has three goals and four assists in his last six games after totaling two goals and eight assists in his first 23.
The Bruins have won four straight at the TD Garden, where they were 29-6-6 last season.
They lost 4-3 in a shootout at Philadelphia on Oct. 22 in the teams' only previous meeting this season.
Players from both teams visited Fenway on Sunday.
"Playing here for the Winter Classic is going to be awesome," Laviolette told the Flyers' official Web site. "You go out there and stand on the rink, even though the ice isn't in yet, you take a look around and you just know it is going to be a pretty good day."