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The Penguins lost to the Washington Capitals in the Winter Classic, 3-1. Eric Fehr opened the scoring five minutes into the second period, and Mike Knuble made it 2-0 Caps with a power play goal a few minutes later. Evgeni Malkin scored late in the period for the Pens to make it 2-1.
The Pens were very persistent throughout the first half of the third period, particularly on a power-play opportunity after a delay-of-game penalty about midway through, but they couldn’t manage to score on goalie Semyon Varlamov, who recorded 32 saves for the game. The Capitals added an insurance goal eight minutes before the end of the game on a breakaway goal by Fehr, who beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a shot to the top right corner of the goal.
After that, the Penguins couldn’t get much going, at least not until around the time Fleury was pulled with about two minutes left. Another Capitals goal was disallowed after Alex Ovechkin was called for interfering with Fleury behind the goal.
Exciting as it was to have a game at Heinz Field, it’s hard to tell how much stock to put in this game. By the third period, the ice was sopping wet. The skating at times appeared to be faster than in a normal NHL game, the puck-handling looked a little bit awkward, presumably because the players weren’t used to surfaces that slick. And it wasn’t all bad – we got to see Jordan Staal for the first time this season.
A quick note on the camera work - I know this was a special occasion and everything, but it's very hard to watch hockey with these roaming, overhead, up-and-down-the-ice shots. It was very hard to follow the action at times. I've even heard from a couple of people that the moving cameras made them nauseous. That didn't happen for me, but I certainly see how it could.
Earlier this morning, Penguins’ center Jordan Staal announced to the press that he will make his season debut tonight, in the Winter Classic, at 8 p.m.
"I feel ready and I feel ready to go, which I think is the same thing," said Staal, who has fully recovered from a broken hand. "So it’s kind of funny how it falls (into place), me being ready for this game (the Winter Classic). It’s very exciting and I’m very happy to be back in the lineup."
With his return to the lineup, Staal will apparently spend much of the game skating with the fourth line, while occasionally getting some ice time with Evgeni Malkin on his wing.
Staal is expected to start the game on the fourth line, but Bylsma said that he will see some action with Evgeni Malkin on his wing.
"He will play on a line with Geno for parts of the game," Bylsma said.
Much of the season has been a hard luck affair for Staal, who has yet to suit up for the Penguins due to a myriad of injuries.
In the off-season, Staal had surgery on a tendon in his right foot, injured during the 2010 playoffs. Later on, in the summer, the foot became infected, forcing another surgery for Staal that caused him to miss the start of the season.
Staal had returned to Penguins practices in late October, but soon after he resumed skating with the team, Staal suffered a broken hand due in to an errant shot. The injury to his hand has kept Staal out of the lineup for nearly two months now.
This is the first time that Staal, typically a durable player, has had an extended absence from the rink during his professional career. In his first four seasons, Staal had missed a total of one regular season game for the Penguins, that game taking place during his rookie year. This year, Staal has been relegated to the press box for 39 games.
There are questions, however, as to whether Staal is really ready to join the lineup. Recent episodes of HBO 24/7 made it abundantly clear that the 22-year-old native of Thunder Bay, Ontario desperately hoped to return to the lineup in time for the Winter Classic. With everything seeming to come to a resolution today, fans could be reasonably worried as to whether Staal is physically ready for action. Dan Bylsma quickly dismissed such worries.
"Jordan is healed and every doctor will tell you his hand is good to go," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "It’s just a confidence issue getting back in the lineup for his first time out there. We’re all going to see that tonight."
After all that has happened during a brutal 2010, things may be starting to look up for Staal in 2011.
"Now that it’s finally here, it doesn’t even really seem real yet," Staal said. "I know as soon as I get out on that ice and play a couple shifts, it’ll really sink in. It gives me chills now, and I’m really excited for it."
Weather worries for much of the last week came to fruition this evening when the NHL officially pushed back the opening faceoff of the 2011 Winter Classic to 8 p.m. from the game’s originally scheduled start time of 1 p.m.
Per the NHL:
PITTSBURGH – The National Hockey League announced today the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will change the original 1 p.m. (ET) start time on New Year’s Day to 8 p.m. (ET). The decision was based on the latest meteorological reports, which have advised an approaching front of potentially steady rain expected to fall through the afternoon and taper off by early evening, and after consultation with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals, national broadcast partners (NBC, CBC, RDS), the Pittsburgh Steelers, the National Hockey League Players’ Association, and local officials.
We have been further advised that cooler and drier air conditions are expected in the evening with the passing of the front. The NHL feels that it was important to make this announcement at this time so as to minimize the inconvenience to all parties associated with the event, especially its fans.All 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic tickets will continue to be honored and all ticket holder agreement language remains unchanged.
Additionally, fans attending the game should take note of the following changes:
Gates to Heinz Field will now open at 5:30 p.m. (ET)
Pre-game entertainment now begins at 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Heinz Field Parking Lots will now open at 2:30 p.m. (ET)
Spectator Plaza will now open at 3 p.m. (ET)
The most recent forecast from The Weather Channel has rain starting this evening and continuing throughout Saturday, with the front eventually dissipating some time after 6 p.m. Temperatures, meanwhile, should hold steady around the mid-to-upper 40s.
Mario Lemieux skated for the Penguins and showed off some excellent hands in making a few good dishes. Lemieux tallied a couple of assists. Ron Francis also had a multi-point effort.
Paul Coffey, even in advanced age, showed off the magnificent skating ability that made him the NHL’s premiere offensive defenseman in his day.
A star who stole the show for Pittsburgh was Jay Caufield. Now famous for being a television commentator, Caufield was mainly a fighter in his day. In fact, in 208 career NHL games, Caufield only tallied 5 goals. Today he scored a big goal late in the game on a slapshot. Not to only contribute at one end of the ice, Caufield laid out to block a shot in his defensive zone. Truly an admirable effort from the big guy.
In the end though, the Caps Peter Bondra, a tremendous goal scorer in his own right, stepped into a slapper to tie the game and that’s how it ended. With the crowd clamoring to “let them play” it was decided that would not happen – as the ice needed to be cleaned and readied for a practice for the current day Penguins as they prepare to meet the Washington Capitals in tomorrow’s main event.
Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey and several other notable Penguins alumni are set to make a brief return to the ice in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game.
Opposing the Penguins alumni will be a Capitals squad that, despite lacking the name recognition of the Penguins roster, still boasts Capitals greats Peter Bondra, Dino Ciccarelli and Michal Pivonka.
According to The Weather Channel, a warm front should be hitting Pittsburgh around the start of the New Year. A major problem for the Winter Classic? Not really. But what could derail the heavily-anticipated game is the precipitation that could be coming along with it.
With The Weather Channel projecting a high near 50 degrees and chances of rain at 40% for the day of the game, the threat of inclement weather forcing a postponement or cancellation of the Winter Classic has become a legitimate threat.
Rob Rossi from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently spoke with an NHL official who outlined the league's contingency plans for the game:
If the game cannot be played Saturday the league has reserved Heinz Field for Sunday and will attempt to play the game then, NHL vice president of player development/event communications Jamey Horan said in an email.
If the game cannot be played Saturday or Sunday it will be rescheduled for a date later in the season, and the game will be held at Consol Energy Center.
Earlier in the week, NHL operations facilities manager Dan Craig had also outlined the major concerns for the the event:
Warm temperatures are not a primary concern because of an elaborate refrigeration system that cools the outdoor ice rink, NHL operations facilities manager Dan Craig told the Tribune-Review last week.
Craig said rain, swirling winds and the reflection of bright sunshine were potential problems for the outdoor rink that is expected to be completed by today.
Any type of delay for the game would obviously be a blow to the NHL, which has invested significant time and resources into making the Winter Classic a premier holiday sporting event. The fact that the NHL has a thorough contingency plan, had the foresight to book Heinz Field on the following day, and has ample technology to deter warming temperatures is a good sign. But technology can only do so much to protect an uncovered rink from rain and sleet.
In the meantime, most involved will simply be crossing their fingers and hoping for a dry start to 2011.