Total Winter Classic Preview

Forecast, January 1, 2011: Temperatures around 50°F… Cloudy with Rain Showers likely… Hardly the weather NHL execs had hoped when deciding on having their annual bonanza in Pittsburgh. However, it seems as though the game may go off, and could still be a huge success. Should the game be delayed until Sunday, the teams will still likely come out with the same tenacity and put on a brilliant display of outdoor hockey. Sure TV ratings will likely dip, especially when pitted against the media giant known as the NFL. But who cares? 90% of people planning on watching the game will still likely tune in, at least for a period or two.

NHL Execs are hoping for more of a winter wonderland

But first, I need to address the issue with the selection of the decision made months ago, mainly the teams and location involved in the 2011 Winter Classic. As a Penguins supporter/defender, some might be surprised at my chagrin towards the choices made by Bettman and company. By no means am I a Bettman hater, the man is trying to bring back the sport that stooped to the lowest of lows in 2004, when a lockout cost the league an entire season, and with it TV contracts, sponsorship, and millions of fans across the United States. So monetarily the choice of Penguins vs Capitals was a slam dunk… it brings in the most mula. When you can showcase the leagues two most recognizeable players on the biggest stage, you’ll jump at the chance. Bettman will never get to see Crosby and Ovechkin duke it out in the Stanley Cup Finals, so he’s settling for this. But hockey purists, and even casual fans recognize that this media stunt is a bit forced, and frankly unfair to many other teams, cities, and markets across North America. Fans in Montreal would kill to host a Winter Classic; instead they’ll have to settle for the Flames in a much less hyped “Heritage Classic” in February.

Avery: clearly peeved that the Rangers have yet to play in a Winter Classic

Hockey purists will argue that the annual game should include Original Six Teams first, with NY Rangers, Montreal, and Toronto still having yet to feature in one. But, the main argument is equity. Why should the Pens get a second Winter Classic, before 25 other teams even get to play in one?! I already answered that question above ($). Regardless, let’s take a look at some other matchups that could still draw huge crowds, garner interest, and showcase some of the NHL’s lesser known players and teams:

NY/NJ Rivarly: Rangers vs Devils (New Meadowlands Stadium or Yankee Stadium)

Ovi vs Stamkos: Capitals vs Lightning (FedEx Field)

Battle for Canada: Maple Leafs vs Canadiens (Rogers Centre… roof open)

Gretzky Game: Oilers vs Kings (Commonwealth Stadium)

If the NHL was still insistent on having Crosby vs Ovechkin, why not have the game in Washington? FedEx field, RFK, Nationals Park… they’d all be great locations. How about this for a radical idea… have the game on the national mall… right there, in front of the most iconic monuments in America. If DC can cram a million people in for the Obama inauguration, I’m sure they can fit 80,000 in for a hockey game.

Back to business: HBO’s coverage of the two teams have provided more hype than usual, has let us into the inner workings of a hockey team, and especially what coaches say when their teams struggle (see Bruce Boudreau). The Pens are flying high, winning 16 of their last 20 games, and scoring the second most goals in the NHL. The Caps are reeling, after losing 8 in a row, they’re just now starting to recover, and still cling to their division lead. So what should we expect? For starters, expect a close game: 9 out of their last 13 contests have been decided by just 1 goal, with 6 of those games going to Overtime.

The rivalry continues? Expect a calmer game, for the sake of the NHL

With that being said, let’s get into the game itself:

Injury Report:

Capitals: Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon OUT… Tom Poti, Mattieu Perrault QUES.

Penguins: Mike Comrie, Jordan Staal OUT… Eric Godard DOUBTFUL

Expected Lines:

Capitals:

Off: 1-Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble… 2-Laich, Johansson, Semin… 3-Chimera, Beagle, Fehr… 4-Hendricks, Steckel, Perrault

Def: 1-Green, Hannan… 2-Erskine, Schultz… 3-Carlson, Alzner

Goalie: Varlamov

Penguins:

Off: 1- Kunitz, Crosby, Dupuis… 2- Talbot, Malkin, Cooke… 3- Conner, Letestu, Kennedy… 4- Rupp, Adams, Asham

Def: 1- Orpik, Letang… 2- Martin, Michalek… 3- Goligoski, Engelland

Goalie: Fleury

Players to watch:

Capitals: Jason Chimera (right)- one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, and is the only Capital with experience playing in a pro game outdoors (1st Heritage Classic with Edmonton).

Penguins: Sidney Crosby- coming off his first point-less game in over a month, he’ll be looking to get back on the score sheet. He also stole this show 3 years ago, scoring the shootout winner in Buffalo.

Well, that’s that. Enjoy the show ladies and gents, no matter when the puck ends up dropping.

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