PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 29: Kimmo Timonen #44 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates in an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets at Wells Fargo Center on November 29, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Flyers challenge top-ranked Blackhawks


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.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist
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DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.