Joe Quenneville, Antti Niemi, Michael Leighton

Why this year’s Philadelphia Flyers look an awful lot like last season’s Chicago Blackhawks

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It wasn’t always pretty – after all, they needed a shootout win over the New York Rangers on the last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot – but the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers found a way to mesh together, bought into new coach’s Peter Laviolette’s system and finished two wins away from a Stanley Cup.

While this might paint the picture in the broadest strokes, there were two ways the Flyers could have reacted this season: 1) by fading into oblivion, thus proving that they merely got hot at the right time or 2) prove that they are a genuine contender with a great season. It seems like they went with option two, considering the fact that Philadelphia is the top team in the Eastern Conference right now.

In fact, the 2010-11 Flyers might be in a remarkably similar situation as the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks team that thwarted them for the ’10 championship. Let’s take a look at the intriguing similarities between the two teams, starting with the most important shared characteristic. For the sake of honest discussion, I’ll also discuss a few key differences that keep the two teams’ similarities from being Sedin twins-level creepy.

Long term core, short term depth

Last season, it seemed like the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation would be even more crippling than it ended up being. Yet they still lost some crucial pieces, particularly Dustin Byfuglien and (admittedly struggling) goalie Antti Niemi.

The Flyers don’t face the same dire situation (CapGeek.com estimates their 2011-12 cap space to be more than $3.64 million with 17 roster spots covered), but Philly will likely lose some of their impressive depth players during the next summer or two.

Ville Leino (unrestricted) and Andreas Nodl (restricted) are free agents this summer along with steady, affordable goalie Brian Boucher. Valuable defensemen Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle will be unrestricted free agents while James van Riemsyk – the second overall pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft –  will be a restricted free agent in July 2012. Leino and JVR are particularly likely to see considerable raises, which might price them out of Philly.

In other words, the Flyers boast an outstanding group of top-end players such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter – much like the Blackhawks still employ Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith – but they’ll only be able to boast almost unfair depth for another season or two.

Laviolette = Joel Quenneville

However you feel about the dismissal of John Stevens, the Flyers are clearly a better hockey team under Laviolette. Much like coach Q, the feisty former Carolina Hurricanes bench boss arrived with instant credibility (and a Cup from his time with the ‘Canes). It’s a telling pattern that talented teams flourish with some new blood, from Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh to Bruce Boudreau in Washington and Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay.

Sergei Bobrovsky = Antti Niemi?

Cristobal Huet was supposed to be the man in Chicago. Michael Leighton was supposed to make good on his surprise Cup run this season. Yet Niemi eventually usurped the pricey Huet and Bobrovsky took advantage of Leighton’s poorly timed injury issues to nab the No. 1 gig.

The best part for Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren is the big difference between the two: while Niemi’s contract expired last summer, Bobrovsky’s entry-level deal won’t run out until the 2012-13 season concludes. (Of course, there’s that other major difference: Niemi already won Chicago a Cup.)

Losing to a champion

I’m not sure if the cliche is as valid in the unpredictable days of the salary cap, but many people think that a team “needs to learn how to lose before they learn how to win.”

There’s some truth to that in the way the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins fell to the Detroit Red Wings before winning Cups the last two seasons. Perhaps the Flyers will take that lessons learned from losing to Chicago and win a Cup this season?

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So as the Flyers and Blackhawks play for the first time since the two teams grappled in the Cup finals, forgive some double-takes in Chicago. It’s just that they might feel like they’re looking back at their 09-10 selves (only in black, white and orange jerseys).

Video: Max Domi hurt after big hit, fight with Garnet Hathaway

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Dave Tippett insists that, even though he suffered an upper-body injury, Max Domi has to play with the sort of edge he showed tonight.

But, yeah, that edge left him bleeding this time around.

As you can see from the video above, Domi and Garnet Hathaway engaged in a fierce fight after a hit by Domi. The Arizona Coyotes forward left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury, and is now considered day-to-day. The price of doing business?

Domi grabbed an assist during the game, so maybe this will be the sort of thing that helps him get back on track.

Speaking of back on track, the Flames are now on a five-game winning streak while the Coyotes dropped their sixth in a row as Calgary won 2-1 in overtime. Chad Johnson remains brilliant, Mike Smith keeps getting Arizona points (they may or may not actually want in the long run) and, hey, Dougie Hamilton is still a Flame:

Penguins keep pace with Rangers on top of Metro

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 08: Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a shot on Roberto Luongo #1 of the Florida Panthers during a game  at BB&T Center on December 8, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Sidney Crosby is tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are tied atop the division.

They certainly impressed the struggling Florida Panthers and their new coach.

Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Penguins over the Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight, scoring 24 goals in the process. Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead on five shots less than eight minutes in.

“It was nice to start with the lead. It was kind of weird the way things worked out,” Crosby said. “We didn’t have many shots, but we had a few goals right off the bat.”

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers.

Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses.

“I thought we showed them way too much respect in the beginning of the game. We were back on our heels a little bit,” Rowe said. “Obviously, they’ve got two of the best players in the world and I think it could have intimidated some of our younger guys a little bit.”

The Panthers have lost six of seven.

“It’s a work in progress, I guess,” Rowe said. “We’ve still got a lot of young guys in the lineup.”

Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Crosby’s goal 3:06 in. Crosby snapped a wrist shot from above the right circle that got through several Florida defenders and past Luongo.

Crosby is tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead in goals.

“With us, we knew that they were going to be motivated,” Crosby said. “They’ve played a lot of close games lately, a lot of overtime games. When you get a new coach, everybody is trying to prove themselves. I think we expected a pretty tough game. It was just nice to get that kind of start.”

The Penguins extended their lead to 2-0 on Sheary’s tally. The initial shot by Sheary missed the net, but the puck came off the end boards and into the crease and was inadvertently kicked across the goal line by Luongo at 4:51. Crosby had an assist on the goal.

“(Crosby) is always the guy that takes the lead,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His line gets us a couple goals early on and gets us the lead and speaks volumes for the leadership he displays night in and night out.”

Pittsburgh stretched the score to 3-0 when Scott Wilson‘s shot from the right circle deflected off Kuhnhackl and into the net at 7:34. The Panthers unsuccessfully challenged the goal, claiming Kuhnhackl interfered with Luongo.

The Panthers closed to 3-1 on Jagr’s power-play goal. Aleksander Barkov passed from below the right circle to Jagr in the slot, and his one-timer beat Murray at 6:17 of the second.

Cullen gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead at 5:48 of the third when he grabbed a rebound in front and put the puck between the pads of Luongo.

Hagelin added an empty-net goal with 32.9 seconds left to make the score 5-1.

Notes: The Penguins have gone 6-0-2 in their past eight games against the Panthers. … The Penguins sent LW Jake Guentzel and D Derrick Pouliot to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … Jagr has 1,882 points, putting him six behind Mark Messier for second place on the career list. … Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault missed his third game with a lower-body injury. … Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield attended the game.

UP NEXT:

Penguins: Visit Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

Panthers: Host Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

It’s probably too early for Predators to worry about Rinne, right?

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators looks on during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks  at Honda Center on October 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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December hasn’t been kind to November’s player of the month so far.

Pekka Rinne helped hold the Nashville Predators together when they struggled early and then was there for their recent ascent, but coming into this season, many expected him to be a weakness for his team.

Especially worried types might wonder if “that” Rinne is returning after a tough Thursday performance in the Dallas Stars’ eventual 5-2 win against the Predators.

Rinne allowed four goals on 18 shots before being taken out of the game about six minutes into the second period. One of his best moments was this bit of unintentional comedy:

All kidding aside, it’s been a rough run lately, even if the sample size is small enough that it would be silly to panic.

While he did grab a win during this span, Rinne’s now allowed 12 goals in his last four games. That’s happened on 68 shots on goal, so he’d have a .823 save percentage for this span.

During his magnificent month of November, he generated an awe-inspiring .949 save percentage over 12 games.

Such a staggering disparity shows how wildly a goalie’s stats can swing thanks to an off night or two.

It would be foolish to overreact, but it’s a situation to watch as the Predators hope to round into a legitimate contender out West.

Max Pacioretty had a good, painful reason for his goal slump

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 12:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens takes a shot during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on November 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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If your reaction to Max Pacioretty‘s relative struggles in November was to call him “soft,” you might want to backtrack right about now.

Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reported and Michel Therrien later confirmed that Pacioretty had been playing through the previous month with a broken foot (hairline fracture to be precise). That foot is healed up, allegedly.

It’s easy to look at his split stats and say, “Yeah, that explains it.”

October: two goals, seven points in nine games
November: three goals, eight points in 14 games
December: three goals, four points in four games, including a tally in Thursday’s 5-2 win against the Devils.

Either way, with Greg Pateryn added to an injury list that includes David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk, the Habs have to commend their captain for gritting his teeth through what must have been an agonizing month.

Then again, with his “Wolverine” healing powers, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounds …