NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 21: Dainius Zubrus #8 of the New Jersey Devils digs for the puck along the boards against Kimmo Timonen #44 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Prudential Center on January 21, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. The Flyers defeat the Devils 4-1. (Photo by Norman Y. Lono/Getty Images)
Timonen may be 'underappreciated' in the limited amount of attention he receives outside of the Philadelphia area, but his value is well known throughout the League. His leadership and warrior-mentality are invaluable on a young Flyers' blueline.
Kimmo Timonen isn't the most physical of NHL defensemen. He'll never compete in a hardest shot competition, and won't be in the all-time leaders for goals scored or points recorded by a blueliner when the time eventually comes to hang up the skates and call it a career.
What he does have is the proverbial 'complete package', which makes the 36-year-old native of Kuopio, Finland something pretty special.
Timonen's blend of slick skating, puck handling abilities, defensive awareness, leadership, and elite hockey sense mesh together with a true veteran savvy that makes him one of the most valuable players on the Philadelphia Flyers' roster this season.
His first pass outlet is among the best of any NHL rear guards, helping to generate a quick-strike counter-attack. That ability has led to 29 assists, which stands second on the Flyers behind only Claude Giroux. The 29 assists is good enough to tie him for the 17th overall best total in the League, and is third best among defensemen -- behind just Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators (40), and Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers (32).
He has just two goals, but his 31 points is tied with Matt Read for fourth in team scoring.
His importance has been even further accentuated by the loss of defensive stalwart Chris Pronger for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. Even though most of the other Philly rear guards have been in the League for several years, it is still a relatively young group. Matt Carle is 27 years of age, and Andrej Meszaros and Timonen's usual defense partner, Braydon Coburn, are both 26, while rookies Erik Gustafsson (23) and Marc-Andre Bourdon (22) round out the top six.
With the captain out, Timonen is the elder statesman on the blueline.
Always one to block a shot to help the cause, there are many times Timonen appears to have sustained a serious injury. The latest was on January 5 against the Chicago Blackhawks, when he left the game with wrist injury. It was feared that he could be lost for some time, as he was seen sporting a bandaged left wrist.
He was listed as questionable for the next game, but he possesses a warrior mentality. Like so many times before, the blueliner played through his ailment. Not only did he play against the Ottawa Senators on the afternoon of January 7, he was in the team's starting lineup. When all was said and done he had logged a team-high time on ice of 25:45, and recorded an assist on Danny Briere's game-tying third period goal in an eventual 3-2 overtime victory.
He is a student of the game, and possesses a great hockey mind. In a tilt against the Minnesota Wild on January 17, Timonen and Coburn each scored goals from the blueline. Timonen revealed it was all in the game plan to gets shots from the point.
"A lot of teams are playing the way Minnesota plays," he said after the 4-1 victory. "They really sink down low and usually what happens is the D is open. So we practice getting the puck to the D and move sideways, or go D to D and make sure the puck goes through the first guy. And good things will happen when the puck goes to the net, there's rebounds and sometimes, like Coby's goal, it'll hit someone and go in."
Another aspect Timonen brings to the table is accountability, and he has no problem speaking his mind.
After a 6-0 home beatdown at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Timonen said "Obviously, we can't be happy the way we played today because I thought that was an old fashioned ass-kicking in every area of the game; goalies, defensemen, forwards. They were better in every aspect of the game."
When the Flyers dropped a 4-1 home contest on January 19 to the lowly New York Islanders -- a team they had beaten the previous 13 times in Philadelphia -- the defender was asked if the reason was due to New York playing better than what was expected.
"No, it was all about us," he snapped in a moment of total candor. "We sucked today."
Following that game Timonen showed another great bit of leadership, this time regarding the obviously struggling Giroux. The club's leading scorer had experienced his worst slump of the season, picking up just two assists over the past seven contests, along with a ghastly -9 rating. But the wily defender, who wears the 'A' on his sweater for the Flyers and also captained the Nashville Predators before coming to Philadelphia, has seen enough while playing in his 13th year in the NHL to know what to advice to offer slumping youngsters.
"Well, he is having a great year," Timonen said of the burgeoning superstar. "He is putting a lot of pressure on himself in every area of his game. It is not about him, he should realize it is about the team. We can help him realize this the way we can. He is one of the better players in the league and I have seen this so many times. You can't play 82 games and be the best player out there every game. You are going to have ups and downs. He is going to be fine. He is maybe just putting too much pressure on himself, but he will be fine."
Whatever was passed on to Giroux seems to have worked because he appears to have stopped pressing, and proceeded to post five assists over the course of the next two games.
Timonen's own offensive game has been good, especially as of late. He has four assists during a current three-game point-scoring streak as the NHL hit the scheduled All-Star break, while scoring a goal and picking up five points in the last five contests.
ESPN's Pierre LeBrun may have said it best when he made this statement regarding Timonen in preparation of the Winter Classic in an article entitled "Flyers' Timonen Still Underappreciated": "Even the spotlight of hockey's most watched television program hasn't changed the fact one of the most talented defensemen of this era -- Kimmo Timonen -- remains under the national radar."
One of the great quotes in that piece comes from Philly defender Andreas Lilja, in which he compares Timonen to one of the all-time greats, Nicklas Lidstrom, with whom Lilja played with for several seasons while in Detroit.
"He reminds me of Lidstrom a little bit," Lilja said. "Same type -- they never really run anybody over and they never get run over -- they're always in the right spot and one step ahead of everybody else. It's fun to watch him play."
A comparison such as that says it all.
A Deserving 2012 All-Star
As a reward for his usual stellar play, Timonen on January 12 was added to the NHL All-Star Game roster (click here to view the official NHL press release). This will be his fourth appearance in an All-Star Game and second as a member of the Flyers, with his last coming in 2008.
Even though he doesn't receive the national accolades that many receive it's no secret around the League just how valuable Timonen is, as was evidenced in Thursday night's All-Star Game Draft in Ottawa. Timonen was taken in the fifth round of the Fantasy Hockey Draft, and was Team Chara's first defenseman selected (click here to see the official NHL press release to view all of the evening's selections).
He will go up against the other four Flyers who will be participating in the midseason classic; Giroux and Scott Hartnell, along with rookies Read and Sean Couturier will be playing for Team Alfredsson on Sunday.
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