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 MLB: Curtis Granderson homers twice off bench in Mets' win

Best of MLB: Curtis Granderson homers twice off bench in Mets' win

NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson came off the bench and homered twice, Jose Reyes had four hits and the surging New York Mets beat the Miami Marlins 7-4 on Tuesday night.

Asdrubal Cabrera extended his recent tear at the plate, hitting a two-run homer in his return to the lineup after missing one start due to a sore left knee. Rookie right-hander Seth Lugo (2-2) gave up two runs in the first inning but recovered nicely as the Mets won for the eighth time in 10 games.

By winning the first two games of the four-game series, New York (68-64) moved ahead of slumping Miami for second place in the NL East. Both teams began the day 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card (see full recap).

Cardinals edge Brewers in 10 innings
MILWAUKEE -- Zach Duke stranded the bases loaded with a strikeout in the 10th inning after Randal Grichuk hit an RBI single in the top half of the inning, lifting the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Seung Hwan Oh (4-2) pitched out of a jam in the ninth to get the win. Duke got his first save with the Cardinals by striking out pinch-hitter Manny Pina after Matt Bowman walked three batters.

The Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta led off the 10th with a single off Corey Knebel (0-2) and moved to third on Yadier Molina's ground-rule double. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who pinch ran for Peralta, scored the winning run on Grichuk's flare to right.

St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and Milwaukee's Wily Peralta dueled for seven innings, leaving a 1-1 game for the bullpens (see full recap).

Wieters lifts Orioles over Blue Jays
BALTIMORE -- Matt Wieters hit a go-ahead, two-run homer off Jason Grilli in the eighth inning to lead the Baltimore Orioles to a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

The Orioles pulled within three games of the first-place Blue Jays, who had a four-game winning streak snapped. After losing the opener 5-1, the Orioles will look to gain more ground in the series finale Wednesday.

Michael Saunders drilled a two-run shot off Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez that tied the game 3-3 in the seventh.

In the eighth, Jonathan Schoop walked and Wieters homered off Grilli (4-2), his 12th of the season.

Brad Brach (8-2) picked up the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Zach Britton got his league-leading 39th save (see full recap).

Phillies' bats dominated by Max Scherzer again in loss to Nationals

Phillies' bats dominated by Max Scherzer again in loss to Nationals

BOX SCORE

The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game with the worst on-base percentage in the majors – a paltry .297 – and they were facing one of the top pitchers in the game.
 
The results were, uh, predictable.
 
The Phillies were dominated by Max Scherzer in a 3-2 loss to the NL East-leading Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay). The final score was deceiving. The only thing that kept the game close was a solid start from Jerad Eickhoff and good work from Phillies relievers Michael Mariot, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos.
 
Scherzer (15-7, 2.89) held the Phillies to three hits and a walk over eight innings. He struck out 11, marking the 12th time he has reached double digits in K's this season.
 
Since signing a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals before the 2015 season, Scherzer has faced the Phillies eight times. He is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in those games. (And you thought Bartolo Colon owned the Phillies.)
 
Scherzer opened this game with five no-hit innings. It was the ninth time he’d carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in 61 starts with the club.

Scherzer has twice taken no-hitters into the sixth inning against the Phillies. Freddy Galvis broke up a Scherzer no-hitter with a double in the sixth inning June 26, 2015. He did it again Tuesday night with another sixth-inning double.
 
“He’s a thorn in my side,” Scherzer joked after the game.
 
Galvis didn’t stay on the bases long. He made a boneheaded base running play after the double and Scherzer wheeled and picked him off.
 
The Phillies’ three-hit effort left manager Peter Mackanin a little frustrated. The Phils had just four hits in losing to the Nats, 4-0, on Monday night. They are hitting just .239 as a team. Only the San Diego Padres (.237) are worse in the majors.
 
“Gotta hit,” Mackanin said quietly. “Once again, I mentioned it before, we need to improve our plate discipline. We’re just not getting hits. We had chances to win the game. But Scherzer was tough. You have to give him credit. He’s got what, 60 less hits than innings pitched? He’s a tough cookie.”
 
Scherzer has given up just 128 hits in 190 innings.
 
The Phillies made a run at Scherzer in the seventh inning. Odubel Herrera reached base on an infield hit and Ryan Howard followed with a line drive two-run homer into the left-field seats. He hit a 94 mph fastball on an 0-1 count.
 
Howard had struck out in both of his previous at-bats against Scherzer and was 1 for 20 with 13 strikeouts in his career against the Washington fireballer before the homer.
 
Given Howard’s career struggles against Scherzer, it was actually a little surprising to see him in the lineup. But Mackanin reasoned that no one on the team had good numbers against Scherzer and Howard was just as likely to run into a big hit as anyone.
 
He was right.
 
Mackanin also said he’s going to start cutting into Howard’s playing time and get Tommy Joseph more looks as the season winds down. Howard, however, could force his way into the lineup with more big hits.
 
Howard was asked about his approach against Scherzer.
 
“Put the ball in play,” he said. “Simple.”
 
Howard’s homer was his 20th of the season. He has reached 20 homers 10 times. Only Mike Schmidt (14) did it more as a Phillie. Howard has 377 homers, tying him with Norm Cash and Jeff Kent for 73rd all time.
 
Howard was asked what makes Scherzer so tough against the Phillies.
 
“That’s Scherzer, man,” Howard said. “I mean, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason. He’s got basically four-plus pitches that he can throw anytime in any count, throw them for strikes, and he does a great job of keeping hitters off balance, mixing it up really, really well. He’s kind of got a pit bull’s mentality on the mound just going out there wanting to shove it to the other team. He had it going tonight.”
 
Scherzer also drove home the Nats’ third run of the night with a safety squeeze. It proved to be a huge run after Howard’s homer.
 
Eickhoff was solid. He gave up a couple of softly hit balls for hits in the first inning and that helped the Nats score two runs out of the gate.
 
The Phillies just didn't have enough hitting to ever get the lead.

Some of that is just who they are – one of the poorest hitting teams in the majors.

Some of it was the guy they were facing.

'Stronger, bigger, better' Ivan Provorov hoping to follow Shayne Gostisbehere's path

'Stronger, bigger, better' Ivan Provorov hoping to follow Shayne Gostisbehere's path

TORONTO — At training camp last year, Ivan Provorov roomed with Shayne Gostisbehere. This year, he’s hoping to follow the young blueliner’s footsteps and earn a roster spot on the Flyers' blue line. 

After playing two games with the Flyers during the 2014-15 season, Gostisbehere joined the Flyers last November and appeared in 64 games, scoring 17 goals and tallying 29 assists. The 23-year-old’s 46 points led all Flyers defensemen and the Florida native finished second to only Chicago’s Artemi Panarin in Calder Trophy voting as the league’s Rookie of the Year. 

“He had an unbelievable season [and] he helped the Flyers a lot,” Provorov said this week at the annual NHLPA rookie showcase in Toronto. “I saw him at development camp and main camp — thought he was a great player. He got his chance when he got called up, and he used it well and played his game.”

Provorov, the Flyers’ first selection (seventh overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, has only one option this year: make the Flyers' roster out of camp. Otherwise, because of his age, he’ll have to return to junior and the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. 

This past season, Provorov scored 21 goals and 73 points in 62 regular-season games with Brandon. He added three goals and 10 assists in 21 postseason games, helping the Wheat Kings win the WHL title and reach the Memorial Cup. However, Brandon struggled at the four-team tournament, losing all three games.

For his solid second season in the WHL, Provorov was named the recipient of the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

“[Memorial Cup] didn’t really turn out the way that we were hoping to, but still a great experience,” Provorov said. “It was a different atmosphere and different tournament, where you have to win one game to get into the playoffs. It’s not like a seven-game series.”

With a second WHL season under his belt, Provorov feels he’s better prepared than he was a year ago to make the leap to the NHL game. 

“I should be a little bit more comfortable, I know what to expect,” he said. “I had a great summer and I think I'm a better player than I was a year ago: stronger, bigger, better in all areas of my game. Just looking forward to getting to Philly and starting camp.”

The Flyers currently have seven defensemen under contract for the upcoming season, but Provorov’s combination of size and skill could push a veteran such as Andrew MacDonald, who already spent most of last season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, out of a job. 

Despite his abilities, Provorov knows bumping a veteran for a roster spot won’t be an easy task.

“Of course when you move on from a level to another level the speed increases, the players are stronger [and] bigger,” he said. “I think, for me I'll just try to play my game and compete as hard as I can.”

Provorov grew up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom and has tried to model his game after the Hall of Famer. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Provorov has spent his two seasons in Brandon developing into a two-way blueliner, who can put up numbers on the offensive side, but at the same time be counted on in a shutdown role. 

The 19-year-old credits his decision to come to North America at such a young age for helping him adjust to the differences in lifestyle. By the time he was 16, Provorov was playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in Iowa prior to being selected by the Wheat Kings in the Canadian Hockey League import draft.

“I came here when I was really young, so it wasn't that hard of a transition,” Provorov said. “Probably the most weird [adjustment] was probably food 'cause, I mean, food is really different from back home, but now I'm used to both.”

If he does wind up back in the WHL, Provorov has the annual World Junior Hockey Championship to look forward to. At last year’s tournament, Provorov, a native of Yaroslavl, Russia, registered eight assists in seven games, winning a second consecutive silver medal at the under-20 tournament.

“World Juniors is a great tournament, good experience,” he said. “It's always great to represent your country and, this time, if I get a chance to play, hopefully we'll win gold.”