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.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”