Can Ville Leino follow up a great playoff run with a productive season?

Thumbnail image for leinobrow.jpgThe Philadelphia Flyers went from a solid team to a dangerously deep group in large part because injuries thrust lower line players (and even guys who were often healthy scratches) into bigger roles during the playoffs. Danny Briere ended up being the leader in playoff points even though many in the hockey world gave up on him. Claude Giroux had a fantastic run as well.

Perhaps the most surprising development was Ville Leino’s growth from a disappointing Finnish League project with the Detroit Red Wings to a red-hot scoring force with the Flyers. Leino put up 21 points in the playoffs skating on a line with Briere and Scott Hartnell. With his contract expiring after this season, it will be interesting to see if Leino can follow up that great playoff run with a full season of success.

Anthony Sanfilippo looks back at his triumphs from last season and wonders about the 2010-11 campaign.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for leinosurrounded.jpgAs coach Peter Laviolette likes to say, though, in hockey, injury breeds opportunity – it’s all about who wants to take advantage of it.

For 19 games last spring, Leino did just that. Partnered with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell to complete the most dynamic line in the playoffs, Leino finished with 21 points in the postseason, an NHL record for rookies. Considering he had a hard time even getting on the ice for the Flyers prior to the postseason, that’s a pretty remarkable figure.

Now, Leino is set to be a fixture on a deep Flyers team with plans of going one step further than it did last season. He will start the season with Hartnell and Briere on what amounts to the Flyers’ second line, and he is being counted on to provide a good chunk of offense for the first time since his days playing in the Finnish Elite League.

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Leino has the talent to be a 25-goal scorer. In his final season in Finland (2007-08) he had 28 goals and 49 assists for 77 points for Jokerit. Of course, that was the last time he was allowed to play the game in his style.

“I feel more confident and I have the trust of the coaches and (other) players,” Leino said. “They’re not thinking, ‘What’s he doing?’ I feel confident to play the way I want. You need that confidence and trust if you’re going to go out there and play (well).”

Leino, Giroux and Jeff Carter all have the dangling monetary carrot in front of them this season, so the Flyers could be driven by normal contributors such as Mike Richards and Chris Pronger while benefiting from an especially inspired supporting cast. Many will critique their goaltending, but if Leino & Co. play well enough it might not matter.

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    Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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    Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

    They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

    Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

    Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

    You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

    Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

    Read about that blowout here.

    Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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    Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

    Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

    It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

    The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

    This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

    Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

    On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

    We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

    Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

    Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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    After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

    Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

    The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

    Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

    Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

    Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

    Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

    Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

    Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

    Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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    It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

    After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

    Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

    Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

    The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.