Voorhees, NJ – For the perfect example of what the Flyers have had to go through this season when it comes to injuries, look no further than right wing Sami Kapanen.
After recovering from off-season knee surgery, Kapanen suffered torn cartilage in his right shoulder in the preseason forcing him to miss the first 20 games. It is no secret that he contemplated retirement following the grueling 2004 NHL playoffs after getting physically worn down, and this season, it has been more of the same as Kapanen regularly gets days off from practice even when he is healthy to rest his body.
He declined an invitation to the Olympics with the surprising Finnish team, and was back on the ice for the first time on Thursday at the Sovereign Bank Flyers Skate Zone.
He is thankful for the break.
"I think it's been good. Personally, the past five to six weeks was mentally hard, playing all those games and taking shots in the shoulder," said Kapanen. "Playing in most of those games was not fun. I think it's been refreshing to have some time off and look at the Olympic Hockey."
Despite the aches and pains, Kapanen is having a solid season with 25 points (9g, 16a) in 36 games while also being a key contributor to the penalty-killing unit, which struggled in his absence.
"The time off for [Kapanen] is really good," said Flyers assistant coach Terry Murray, who has been running practice while Ken Hitchcock has yet to return from Torino following Canada's loss to Russia on Wednesday. "He was really banged up before the break. He had some problems with his shoulder and was losing some stick and puck possession battles because of the lack of strength. He's going to be ready to go down the home stretch."
Kapanen has been watching, as countryman Antero Niittymaki has been fantastic between the pipes leading Finland to the semifinals of the tournament.
"I talked to Niitty after the third game and to make sure that he knew how well he was playing."
Still, he does not have any regrets about not going to Torino.
"I didn't have any options. I had to take the time off in order to get better in order to play after the break"
Kapanen is one of a number of Flyers who entered the break not 100 percent healthy. Michal Handzus, Mike Rathje, Chris Therien and Kim Johnsson still have not taken part in practice yet as the non-Olympians skated for the first time since the break on Wednesday. Joni Pitkanen, Petr Nedved and Branko Radivojevic, however, are back on the ice.
Murray feels the break in the long run will be beneficial to the team.
"We really needed the time off. It was really welcomed from our side with the number of injuries we had before the break," he said. "It gives those guys a chance to rehab.
"As for the younger guys, there was a great workload put on them. I think at the end, maybe a little physical and mental fatigue was setting in, and there was some stuff happening in games where they weren't playing the way they were at the beginning of the year. There's no doubt they've come back reenergized. You can see it in the practice the last couple of days. When it all comes together, I think we are going to be a much better hockey club coming out of this thing than we were going in."