This is the second day of the men’s Olympic hockey competition in Sochi, Russia.
It’s a far busier day, with four games involving three Flyers -– Kimmo Timonen (Finland), Michael Raffl (Austria) and Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia).
Austria will be hard pressed to defeat Team Finland as Raffl and Timonen face each other head-to-head. Slovakia and Russia might be more evenly matched than expected.
Here’s what the Timonen had to say before heading to Russia.
Q: Kimmo, your situation is very different. Been there, done that. But you’ve been injured. Do you temper that with the excitement of going over?
Timonen: It’s been in the back of my mind. I got to get healthy first ... I wanted to get back in the lineup and get my skating legs back up to where they should be because it’s a bigger ice surface over there. I want to feel I am right in my head, too.
Q: It's the fifth Olympics for you. What feels different?
Timonen: The first is always the first and it was a while ago. We had seven defensemen go and now I am in the top pair. It’s different. It’s always a great honor to put that jersey on and now I know it’s my last time. Special meaning for me, for sure.
Q: What are your expectations?
Timonen: I want to play well. Win the gold. That’s the only way we should be going in there. I have a bronze and silver, but I am still missing the gold. We lost 2-1 in Turin to Sweden [for the gold]. It stayed with me for a while. Nothing you can do about it. I have a chance now and there’s really good countries and players. Everyone has a chance.
Q: Kimmo, how can the Olympics help you the rest of the season, career? Jakub Voracek thought it could really make a difference being his first time, but you’re an older veteran.
Timonen: I don’t know if it is going to help me. For someone like Jake, you make the team, it’s your first time over there and you play with confidence. It’s all about your confidence level. Jake going there his first time, he is really looking forward to it. He can build his confidence up from there coming back.
Q: Kimmo, five Olympics is rare. Your teammate, Teemu Selanne, this will be his sixth. How special will this be for you?
Timonen: My last year, it will be. You don’t want to go there if you are hurt. You won’t do well if you’re hurt. It’s a big ice surface, you have to skate a lot and it you are not 100 percent, at my age of almost 39, you can’t go over there playing half effort. That’s why I wanted a game or two [before] to make sure I am good to go.
Q: Will you get time to take a minute and take it all in, one last time?
Timonen: Every time you put the jersey on it’s a great honor, but this time it’s special. This time, it’s my last time and it’s going to feel special. It will be a tight schedule. You can only focus on games. It’s kind of sad, you don’t get to see all the events because of the tight schedule. You try to soak it in.
Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
With the Flyers returning from the bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.
Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
Today’s question: Will we see Ron Hextall dip into the farm system before season's end?
This is a tough question because it has layers, some of which are not easy to peel. According to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers have about $377,545 in cap space. They are not in a cap-friendly position, which ties Hextall’s hands in any move he’d want to do.
The Flyers, as currently constructed, are a fringe playoff team with a long-term plan, and Hextall has shown no signs of deviating from his vision. That means no big shakeups. It also means, however, that dipping into the farm system is a legitimate option for Hextall. He has said in the past he’d make room for kids if they are NHL ready, and he has. He has to ask himself, would bringing up a prospect at Lehigh Valley improve the Flyers?
Perhaps it would. The Flyers do have an influx of young blood on the way, perhaps as early as next season. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities to see three more kids on the roster when 2017-18 begins. DefensemenRobert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim are knocking at the door, and then there is Philippe Myers, too. The Flyers have three expiring contracts on the books, and they will not block kids with Band-aids.
But the question is this season. Would Hagg, Morin or Sanheim upgrade the Flyers’ defense? Hagg is “just about NHL-ready,” Morin stuck around training camp longer than expected and Sanheim has found his footing in the professional ranks. It certainly would not hurt to bring one of them up, but a corresponding move would have to be made.
That would mean Hextall would have to find a trading partner to clear space and room on the 23-man roster for one of the kids. Michael Del Zotto, Mark Streit and Nick Schultz will all be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Del Zotto and Streit could be attractive options for teams at the trade deadline, if the Flyers decided clear way for a prospect.
However, I don’t see the Flyers dipping into Lehigh Valley unless injuries start hitting the NHL roster. There are too many roadblocks with the salary cap to realistically see Hextall being able to move a body out in order to inject more youth to the Flyers.
My gut tells me Hextall will make at least one move at the trade deadline.
It makes for an opportune time to clear cap space and expedite the rebuild.
As Tom noted above, Streit, Del Zotto and Schultz are all unrestricted free agents after this season. If you don’t think any of those three can be moved, remember Hextall found a way to deal Kimmo Timonen, who was 39 years old and without a game played in 2014-15 because of blood clots, for a 2015 second-round draft pick and 2016 conditional pick.
And don’t forget role forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde — cheap and also set to be UFAs this offseason.
So the cap-stricken Flyers have trade chips and aren’t contending for a Stanley Cup this season. Which brings us to the question of will Hextall dip into the farm system before season’s end? I see it happening with some room made after the trade deadline.
That doesn’t mean the Flyers can’t compete for the playoffs, either.
To me, this question comes with an "if" attached to it for a couple of reasons. The first is because of how hell-bent Hextall is on keeping the Flyers' prospects in Lehigh Valley for seasoning until he believes they're truly ready for the NHL level. And the second depends on where the Flyers are in the standings. If they come out of this bye week hot and pick up points to rise back into legitimate playoff talk, Hextall will likely sit pat and let this group play it out. If things continue to unravel, then the Flyers move into seller mode before the March 1 trade deadline. If what we've been conditioned to over this recent miserable stretch is reality, that's the path we're heading down.
So if the Flyers do sell, it's inevitable that a prospect or two makes it up from the Phantoms toward the end of the season because there will finally be some space on the roster to fit in. If the Flyers are all but out of the playoff hunt, bringing a prospect up and letting him play in the NHL level for the last month and change of the season can do wonders for a prospect's confidence heading into next season. Life in the NHL is much different than the bus ride-filled life in the AHL. Once you get a taste, you don't want to go back if you don't have to. And that's a motivating factor heading into training camp.
The next question is who would be brought up? That's a question I don't think is fair to answer right now because only Hextall, his staff and his coaches know who they feel could be ready for a call-up. Of course, the Phantoms are loaded with talent on the back end and that's where the Flyers could use a jolt. To speculate on exactly who that could be right now just wouldn't be fair, in my opinion.
But, for right now before the schedule picks up again this weekend with dates against the Devils and Islanders, this prospect call-up scenario still fits under the "if" scenario.
But if the Flyers continue to falter out of the bye week, I feel seeing a prospect or two with the big club before season's end is inevitable.
Flyers (22-18-6) vs. Devils (19-19-9)
7 p.m. on TCN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30
The bye week has come and gone as the Flyers return from their NHL mandated five-day break by welcoming the New Jersey Devils to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.
Here are five things to know for the game.
1. We meet again
Remember the last game between these two?
It certainly didn’t lack for entertainment, as Fight Night broke out at the Prudential Center right before the commencement of the holiday break.
The Devils were looking for any reason to drop the gloves after general manager Ray Shero called out his bunch in hopes of halting a seven-game losing streak.
New Jersey answered and jumped on the first chance to throw its fists, hammering the Flyers, 4-0, a contest in which blood never stopped boiling. The matchup resembled more of a UFC lineup card than an actual hockey game.
“Should be a good rivalry here this year,” Nick Cousins said then. “Two teams that don’t like each other. I’m excited for the next game.”
The Flyers get it tonight.
2. New perspective?
The Flyers are hoping the bye week was a remedy for their free-fall.
They’ve lost 11 of 14 games since winning 10 straight and no longer hold a playoff spot after clinging to the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card bid for dear life during their skid. Salt was rubbed in the wound with a 5-0 loss to the Capitals last Sunday, as the Flyers limped into the bye week.
Still, the Flyers are in prime position for the playoff push, unlike last season when they had to scrape and claw just to squeak in on the second-to-last day of the regular season.
“We know we've got to be better,” Wayne Simmonds said following practice Friday. “We all have to be accountable to each other. We’re not starting from scratch, but we need a new perspective here. Come out of the gate and do it the right way, again.”
3. Time to capitalize
The Flyers should not only be refreshed mentally, but also physically.
They’ll need the energy this weekend as another back-to-back arrives. It’s one the Flyers really need to take advantage of against the two last-place teams in the Metropolitan Division.
What makes it of even greater importance is that a crucial three-game stretch follows against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes. New York sits ahead of the Flyers in fourth place of the Metro, while the Maple Leafs currently own the second wild card because of fewer games played than the Flyers, who lead the Hurricanes by only one point.
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said Friday. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally … guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
“You were kind of scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild-card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: The gut feeling is Shayne Gostisbehere makes his return felt by snapping his 22-game goal drought. The 23-year-old defenseman has two goals in four career games against New Jersey and is playing through a trying sophomore season.
Devils: Forward Taylor Hall has a great last name and is on a five-game point streak. New Jersey’s leading scorer also has five goals and five assists in seven lifetime matchups with the Flyers.
5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth is 6-2-5 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 13 career games against the Devils.
• New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider is 5-3-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in nine career games against the Flyers.
• The Devils have a Metropolitan-worst minus-29 goal differential.
• The Flyers have been outscored, 19-9, over their last four games.