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: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).