Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, left, reaches out to defend against Chicago Blackhawks' Brandon Saad (20) in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Hawks visit Detroit to face old foe


Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Chicago Blackhawks will head to Joe Louis Arena to take on the Detroit Red Wings at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The days of the Red Wings and Blackhawks competing for the Central Division title are over. They’ve faced each other in the playoffs in two of the last five years and their Conference Semifinals series in 2013 went to seven games.

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With Detroit switching conferences, this represents just the first of two contests between these squads in 2013-14 and if they are to face each other again in the postseason, it would have to be in the Stanley Cup Final. All of that suggests their past rivalry will diminish and perhaps it will in time, but the memories of the fiercely fought games are still fresh in the minds of the players and the coaches.

So for now, playing in only two games just means that the stakes have been raised.

“Everyone will be into it to a different level than anyone we play, and we’ll be revisiting a great seven-game series that could’ve gone either way,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told CSN Chicago. “Knowing we play only once a year in each building, we can still bring back the intensity that’s been in that rivalry for a long time.”

As is the case on almost any given night, the Blackhawks will enter this contest as the favorites. They are a team of few weaknesses and their offensive might is unparalleled. With 31 games remaining in their schedule, they already have three different 20-goal scorers and five players that have recorded at least 40 points.

By contrast the Red Wings’ top scorer is Henrik Zetterberg, who has 15 goals and 39 points this season. Of course, he’s been limited to just 38 contests as almost no one in Detroit has been spared from the injury bug.

Only two players on the Red Wings’ roster have participated in all 49 of their games (Drew Miller and Kyle Quincey). They are likely to enter tonight’s contest without forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson, Johan Franzen, Stephen Weiss, and goaltender Jimmy Howard. Given everything Detroit has been through, it’s impressive that the team is still in the running for a Wild Card spot.

It’s clear which squad has the edge on paper, but in the thick of a playoff race and in a rare meeting against an old rival, Detroit isn’t going to let this one slip by without a fight.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.