The Flyers fan's guide to the Olympic hockey tournament

The Flyers fan's guide to the Olympic hockey tournament

Remember four years ago back in Vancouver when that player who plays on the other side of Pennsylvania and whose name shall not be mentioned drove the stake through America’s hockey heart with an overtime goal to give the Olympic gold medal to our neighbors from the Great White North?

While some people out there may not like it, guess what?

The NHL has officially shut down for almost three weeks.

It’s time for revenge.

Grab your cases of Budweiser, throw on your jorts and have Hulk Hogan’s theme song (Don’t act like you don’t know the words) on cue because the 2014 Winter Olympics are officially underway in Sochi and its main attraction, the men’s hockey tournament, begins Wednesday morning.

And the U.S. is gunning for the gold.

The only thing is there are no current Flyers on Team USA. Former Flyer James van Riemsdyk, who has 24 goals in 58 games played this season, is on the squad and former head coach Peter Laviolette, who was unceremoniously dumped three games into this season, is an assistant coach under current Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

There are no Flyers – even the best of all the Flyers, Claude Giroux, but you already know that story – on the Canadian roster, either.

There are five current Flyers on Olympic rosters. Those players are Andrej Meszaros Michael Raffl, Mark Streit, Kimmo Timonen and Jake Voracek.

But before we get into that, let’s get a little refresher on how international hockey is different than NHL hockey.

The biggest difference is the size of the rink. An NHL rink is 200 feet by 85 feet. An Olympic rink is 200 feet by 100 feet, which, as you may imagine, favors the speedier and more skilled players, and puts the onus even more on the opposing defensemen.

If tied after regulation, preliminary round games feature a five-minute overtime followed by a shootout. Knockout round games feature a 10-minute overtime followed by a shootout and the medal games feature a 20-minute overtime followed by a shootout.

Olympic shootouts are much different than NHL shootouts. After the third player goes for a team in the shootout, any player can go again as many times as he is selected to do so. So for example, if the U.S is still tied after the third round of a shootout, Bylsma can send Patrick Kane out over and over and over again if he chooses to even if Kane was one of the first three shooters.

The only other main differences are that fighting receives an automatic ejection and the goaltender can play the puck anywhere he wants to behind the net.

The countries playing in the tournament are separated into three groups of four teams. Group A includes the United States, host Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia. Group B features defending champion Canada, Finland, Norway and Austria. Group C has Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia.

Got all that? That was a rhetorical question. Of course you do.

Now, back to the five Flyer Olympians, in alphabetical order.

Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia)

Having played just 35 games this season for the Flyers and  a healthy scratch for the other 24 contests, Meszaros hasn’t had the type of role he would have liked with Orange and Black this season.

The good news for him is he’ll get the chance to be a featured defenseman for his homeland in this tournament because preliminary reports have him on Slovakia’s second defensive pairing with a non-NHL player.  Meszaros, who had two assists in the Flyers’ win over the Flames this past Saturday, and the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara are the only NHL defenseman on Slovakia’s roster.

The big ice will help Meszaros showcase his offensive skill but it could be a double-edged sword for him with all the explosive offensive talent he will defend against on every shift.

Michael Raffl (Austria)

This is new territory for the Austrians (Well, let’s put another shrimp on the barbie then!) because they didn’t qualify for the 2010 games.

They’ll have a mountain to climb but Raffl will help them compete with the big boys.

The 25-year-old has impressed in his first season with the Flyers, totaling seven goals and 11 assists in 46 games played. They may not seem like large totals but they are a testament to him considering he started the year in the AHL and has jumped all across different line combos since he got to the big club.

He’s a smart player that plays both ends of the ice, including the penalty kill. He and the Islanders’ Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner will have to carry the load big time if Austria is to pull off any upsets.

Mark Streit (Switzerland)

Streit, who signed with the Flyers this past offseason and has eight goals and 25 assists this season, almost finds himself in the same situation as Meszaros, just with better defensive help around him.

The 36-year-old will be able to display his offensive prowess that we’ve seen as of late in Philadelphia on the big ice in Sochi. But Streit has help around him in NHLers like Nashville’s Roman Josi, and Vancouver’s Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz. That should allow him to take more chances and play a game he’s more comfortable with. Plus, he has Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller, who is having an awesome season, in net behind him so that should help, too.

This will be Streit’s third Olympic games. He helped lead the Swiss to an upset over Canada in 2006 and helped them put a scare into the Canadians in 2010 before ultimately losing in a shootout.

Kimmo Timonen (Finland)

At 38 years old and after missing recent games with a foot injury, if there was one Flyer you wouldn’t mind seeing skip the Olympics, it would probably be Timonen.

But, alas, Timonen is over in Sochi representing his Scandinavian homeland for the fifth consecutive Winter Olympics.

Though the big ice could be a challenge, the good news is that the Flyers’ No.1 defenseman won’t have to work as hard as he does here because of the defensive depth he has around him on defense.

He also has crazy good goaltending behind him in Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen, San Jose’s Antti Neimi and Boston’s Tukka Rask, a legit Vezina Trophy candidate.

The Finns have been hurt in recent weeks with injuries to their forward corps, but with a steady guy like Timonen helping to anchor that defense and the stellar goaltending they should get, they could be a dark horse.

Jake Voracek (Czech Republic)

The 24-year-old winger will be participating in his first Olympic Games and he’s one of the younger players on a Czech Squad that is chock-full of experienced NHL talent.

Expect him to fill the same type of facilitator role he fills here in Philadelphia by dishing and setting up Czech snipers like Boston’s David Krejci, Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky and New Jersey’s Jaromir Jagr (still love you, Jaromir).

Voracek has broken out as a heck of an offensive player over the last season and half here in Philadelphia as he finally got the chance to play with a skilled player like Giroux. Don’t be surprised if he puts up big numbers, especially in the assist column, in Sochi.

So what’s my prediction?

Pain!

Ok, not really. I just always really wanted to say that in a public forum. And it makes no sense since Olympic hockey is more of skilled game than a physical game.

I give the Russians a slight edge because of how stacked they are up front and in net and the fact that the pressure is on them. Let’s be honest, they may never be allowed back into Russia if they don’t win a gold medal on home soil so they kinda have to win.

I put the Canadians, Swedes and Americans just behind them with the Czechs and the Finns lurking.

It all gets underway Wednesday afternoon when the Czechs clash with the Swedes.

The United States’ push for gold begins Thursday morning at 7:30 am when it meets Slovakia.

Set your alarm clocks and take your sick and vacation days from work accordingly.

Go ‘Merica.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).