Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Flyers challenge top-ranked Blackhawks

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Philadelphia Flyers will head to the United Center to take on the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

A lot has changed since the Flyers and Blackhawks met in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

When Chicago won it all that year, they went forward with the goal of preserving their core as best possible despite their salary cap problems and were rewarded with another championship last season. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has been trying to reinvent itself and that hasn’t gone nearly as well.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $2,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $400. Starts Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

The Flyers weren’t able to even make the playoffs following the shortened campaign and they haven’t looked great this season despite dramatically changing their goaltending and adding veterans Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit. It looks like Philadelphia’s bold moves are no longer having the desired effect.

They are averaging just 2.23 goals per game despite their numerous offensive threats. The silver lining is that if they find a way to click, as they have done at times this season, they would be a true contender.

It helps that goaltender Steve Mason has been a high point of the Flyers’ 2013-14 campaign while former Blackhawks netminder Ray Emery has held his own as the team’s backup.

Right now goaltending might be the one area where the Flyers actually have the edge over Chicago. The Blackhawks’ top two goaltenders, Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin, are both dealing with lower-body injuries and won’t be available tonight. That puts the pressure on 24-year-old Antti Raanta and 21-year-old Kent Simpson. Raanta is the only one with any NHL experience (seven contests) while the two have a played in just 32 combined AHL games.

Raanta was in net last night, which means there’s a good chance that Simpson will make his NHL debut against Philadelphia.

At least he’s likely to have plenty of support. In contrast to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have the best offense in the league with an average of 3.58 goals per contest. Patrick Kane became just the second player to reach the 40-point mark with his three-point performance on Tuesday. On top of that, even Chicago’s fifth best goal scorer, Brandon Saad, has found the back of the net more often than any Philadelphia player.

It’s easy to see who the favorite is tonight, but if the Flyers want to get back to the level that they were at in 2010, they have to steal points in contests against seemingly better opponents. Perhaps that’s what will happen tonight.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.

Video: This Kane-to-Panarin goal is all sorts of ridiculous

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When people were arguing against Artemi Panarin‘s Calder case, they often discounted his work because of Patrick Kane‘s brilliance (at least when they weren’t focusing on age questions).

It always felt a little unfair to Panarin.

Do we blame a great wide receiver playing with an adept quarterback? Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have, but it seems fairly clear that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Panarin and Kane.

One could see that plainly in a 1-0 goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins that … admittedly was driven by Kane’s almost audacious creativity and skill.

But still, Panarin has 26 goals this season because he’s really good, too. This season has been a nice showcase for such thoughts, and a reminder that – like most great combinations – they make each other better.

(Seriously though, Kane was out of his mind there.)

‘Old Time Hockey’ video game takes a bit of an early beating from reviewers

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From the sound of things, “Old Time Hockey” is a video game with a lot of heart, but maybe not the skills to make it to the big time.

While “NHL 17” is pumped out by publishing giant EA Sports, this title is very much an independent labor of love by a company called V7 Entertainment. Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy provided a great interview with the developers here. It’s worth noting that the game reminds one of 8-bit titles in another way: lacking an NHL license, these teams are instead fictional. This isn’t necessarily a drawback as much as it provides the title with its own unique “flavor.”

It’s hard not to get behind a scrappy development, especially in an age where sports video game options are so scarce. Some leagues barely see any licensed games any longer (see: the MLB, which feels woefully misrepresented these days), and the arcade-style that “Blades of Steel” and other old-school games popularized is even tougher to come by.

Combine these factors with an aesthetic inspired by “Slap Shot” and “Old Time Hockey” seems like it could really scratch an itch … except, it sounds like the puck missed the net.

So far, reviews are pretty mixed for the title, which is currently on PC and Playstation 4 (with planned releases on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch).

While there are a few good reviews here and there, the general reception is of disappointment.

A Sporting News review states that “the promising premise falls apart quickly.” Game Informer slams a “slew-footed story mode.” PC Gamer notes that, with EA not releasing an NHL game on that platform since 2008, there was a need here … but it wasn’t met.

Does that mean there’s no fun to be had? Not necessarily, but it’s a bummer that the game might be off the mark, especially since V7 Entertainment seems to have its heart in the right place.

Then again, maybe those who want that “NHL 94” fix merely need to dig a little. As this Vice article points out, there’s still an active community playing the sort of game that scratches the itch that “Old Time Hockey” – perhaps – can’t quite reach.