This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game features the Philadelphia Flyers visiting the Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) in a rematch of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. It may not have been that long since Patrick Kane scored his historic Cup-winning overtime goal in Game 6, but both of these teams have changed since then.
Starting with Chicago, the challenge will be how long can they go without goaltender Corey Crawford? So far Antti Raanta has played well. The two Stanley Cup-winning goalies on their team, Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin, are injured, which puts the spotlight on Raanta, the latest player in the pipeline of Finnish goalies. So far he has come in and looked comfortable and played well. He's going to have to continue to play the way he is playing to allow the Blackhawks to play the way they play. The Blackhawks have been able to make plays and not change their style of game because they're worried about getting a save.
It seems like Finland has produced a lot of really tall, bigger goalies. Raanta is not in that mold, at least in terms of his height. A lot of the Finns are typically very athletic and dynamic in the net. It's not that he doesn't have that in his toolbox. It's just not as big a component of his game as Kari Lehtonen or Pekka Rinne. He plays a very patient game and he looks composed. Talking to guys in their room, they don't feel like they need to change the way they play. That's real positive feedback. That goes a long way for a young goalie. Knowing that the guys like you and respect your game, that's a huge compliment.
It's one thing to speak about Chicago's depth, but it's another to talk about its versatility. Versatility to me paints more of a complete picture than just depth. In the cap era, you need value for what you're buying. You need added value in each player. You need a super-skilled player who is willing and capable to kill penalties. Maybe he doesn't get on the power play, but he can still do damage and create offensively on the third line.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews is the model for that versatility. I don't know if he can play net, but short of playing net he can do anything. That guy is a cleaner. Any situation, he is there to clean it up. He leads this group, and this is a group with a lot of good leaders.
A lot of their guys are versatile players and are interchangeable in terms of who they can play with. That's a huge advantage for any team to have.
With the Flyers, the key has been the development of their young forwards this season. Sean Couturier's line has been on fire. It's nice to see that he's showing some offensive production. Matt Read had a slow start but has turned it on and played exceptionally well. Brayden Schenn has played better. These guys are all still very young, they're trying to figure out what it takes to be successful in the NHL. They've certainly made a lot of positive strides this year, especially in the past 10 games. They look a lot more comfortable.
When you're a skill player and you come into the League, it's about finding different ways to generate offense. I never liked dumbing anybody down. I played for coaches who just wanted you to chip it in and not make a play. I don't believe that is hockey. You watch the Blackhawks or the Detroit Red Wings, they're great examples of how that is not the only solution to generating offense.
Watching Philly, those guys are embracing more variety offensively. There are a lot more double-layered screens in front of the net. There's a lot more close deflections. Against Detroit, Scott Hartnell pushed off the coverage, got up, presented his stick and got a one-time opportunity he scored on. I'm seeing a lot more creativity and more different looks for them offensively. That's a great thing.
That variety is key for them. But it's hard because, while their D is playing much better, they don't have the one guy back there that is going to drive the offense. They don't have an Alex Pietrangelo or P.K. Subban or Erik Karlsson. But I am seeing a lot of their defensemen making a better first pass and making smarter decisions in the offensive zone. They might not all be able to dance along the blue line, but they're making smart decisions. That has improved a lot.
For a while, the Flyers fell in love with wanting to play a fast game, an off-the-rush game, which I respect. But to me it's like football. You can pass, which is our rush game, you can run, which is our cycle game, or you can punt, which is our icing. When Philadelphia is playing their best hockey, they have a good combination.
You look at Chicago, they do a little bit of everything. So hopefully these two teams will have a bunch of different looks Wednesday night.