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Get used to it, everybody. Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin sells.
Saturday's Winter Classic, which feature the two players and their teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, was the highest-rated regular season hockey game since the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers met in April 1975.
From an NBC press release:
The 2011 NHL Winter Classic, broadcast on New Year's Day by NBC Sports in primetime due to a weather delay, was the most-watched Winter Classic ever, up 22 percent vs. last year's game and the most-watched NHL regular-season game in 36 years, according to fast national data provided by Nielsen Media Research. In four years the NHL Winter Classic, which Newsday called "a holiday tradition" and the New York Times said "has stolen New Year's Day," has averaged 4.1 million viewers on NBC. Saturday's game was seen by 4.5 million viewers, up 22 percent vs. last year (3.7 million), and earned a 2.3 national rating and 4 share (8-11 p.m. ET), up 10 percent vs. last year (2.1/4, 1-4 p.m. ET).
The game did a whopping 32.0 rating in the Pittsburgh market, according to NBC, as well as a 7.6 in the Washington market. Baltimore was a close third, coming in with a 6.6 rating.
This is all obviously very good for the Winter Classic and the NHL in general. The numbers aren't anything compared to football, but there's been a general upward trend since the lockout. Now, as the NHL revs up for negotiations on a new television rights deal in the United States, they have leverage. That's huge for the league.
It's tradition in the Winter Classic. Or, at least, it was. At the end of the game, the teams shake hands, just like at the end of a playoff series.
Tonight, the Penguins and the Capitals broke that tradition.
A report on Twitter said that some of the Pens had to be reminded to stick around on the ice for handshakes. That never happened. Mutual decision by both teams? Interesting, either way. I guess they really do hate each other.
Eric Fehr scored two goals to lead the Washington Capitals over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field. It's not just a run of the mill win, though. All you have to do is look at the end of the game to know that this isn't just another game. Yes, it's obviously different than a normal game -- it's outside.
But the players don't just brush this thing off as some gimmick. They genuinely want to win this thing more than the typical game. Alex Ovechkin was jumping up and down like a giddy little school girl as the final horn went off, as were the rest of the Capitals.
Even knowing they were going to lose with just under two seconds left, the Penguins didn't just lie down and go home, either. Things got nasty in the latter stages of the game, with an attempted brawl breaking out before the final face off.
The story of the week in the run up to the game was the weather, and rain fell on the ice periodically throughout the game. The NHL has to be breathing a sigh of relief tonight, though, as the weather didn't really impact the game. The ice wasn't good, but it didn't cause any injury and the game didn't have to be called early. That's really all they can ask for, right?
Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were both held without points. Each finished a minus-1, as well. For the folks who hate the hype surrounding those two, that's gotta feel good. It's a team game, right?
The announced attendance: 68,111.
Bad ice? What about bad ice?
Using fantastic passing on a little give-and-go play in the neutral zone, the Capitals broke Eric Fehr out on a breakaway, and No. 16 didn't miss out on the opportunity. Fehr put the shot top shelf on Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead late in the third period.
Video of the goal:
The Penguins are up against the wall now, and they'll need some late game heroics if they're going to improve to 2-0 in Winter Classics.
Rain is steadily falling on the rink at the 2011 Winter Classic, and as a result, the ice is in terrible shape. The puck is slowing down in the puddles (which leaves an ice trail reminiscent of Fox's old glowing puck) that are forming on the ice are making play difficult. The teams have switched sides now and with one side of the ice in worse condition than the other, the weather could be the determining factor in who wins this game.
That is, if they even finish the game. What if they have to stop playing thanks to the weather? According to the NHL, here's what will happen:
If the game is started, then stopped permanently due to unplayable weather conditions, it will be deemed "official" once two periods have been played. The team leading at the time play is stopped will be declared the winner and will be awarded two points in the standings.
If the game is tied at the time play is stopped permanently, any time after two periods of play, each team will be awarded one point in the standings, with an opportunity to earn an additional point in a standard shootout format.
If weather conditions permit, the shootout will be conducted at Heinz Field immediately after regulation play has been stopped. If weather conditions make it impossible to conduct a shootout safely at Heinz Field, the shootout will take place at Verizon Center on Sunday, February 6 prior to the regularly scheduled Pittsburgh-Washington game.
If the game is started, and stopped permanently due to unplayable weather conditions, and fewer than two periods of regular time has been played, the game will be officially "postponed" and, if possible, will be played in its entirety at Heinz Field on Sunday, January 2, beginning at 12 p.m. (ET). If the game cannot be replayed at Heinz Field on January 2, it will be rescheduled at CONSOL Energy Center for a date to be determined later in the season.
We've been talking about the weather all week in the run up to tonight's 2011 Winter Classic, and since this game is played out in the elements and not in the controlled confines of an indoor arena, there are little alterations that have to be made to the typical rules governing play.
One of those changes: at the 10 minute mark of the third period, the play will be whistled dead as if the period ends with what the NHL calls a "hard whistle." The teams will switch ends for the remainder of the period, and the ensuing face off will take place at the spot play was whistled dead.
If the game goes to overtime, the same thing will happen at the 2:30 mark.
As rain falls on Heinz Field in this third period, it's worth noting that the game is now considered "official." Much like playing beyond the fifth inning of a baseball game, if the weather forces this game to stop, it won't be replayed or finished.
David Steckel threw his fists at Pittsburgh's Mike Rupp back in the first period, and at the end of the second period, he threw his body at Pens' star Sidney Crosby.
With the play winding down as the period came to an end, Steckel caught him in the head with a shoulder. It was a blindside hit and Crosby never saw it coming, although to say Steckel did it on purpose would be a weak accusation.
Crosby was slow to get up and he was given some attention from the trainer as the Penguins shuffled off to the locker room. He skated off on his own power and looks to be alright.
Here's the video:
In the second episode of HBO's 24/7 Penguins-Capitals, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma talked with his coaching staff about how the hand-offs between goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense left a lot to be desired. Apparently, that's still a problem for the Penguins.
Handling the puck behind the net, Fleury misjudged where the incoming Capitals forecheckers were and allowed Marcus Johansson to lift the puck right off his stick. Johansson quickly shoveled the puck in front of the net, where Eric Fehr was able to bang the puck into an empty net.
2-1 Capitals, and that's how we end the second period.
Video of the goal:
The Capitals are an offensive hockey team. They make their money scoring goals -- lots and lots of goals. Stick-handling and creative passing, then, are some of the key tools of their trade. The ice at the 2011 Winter Classic is not lending itself to their style of hockey.
In a short in-game interview with NBC's Pierre McGuire, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau mentioned the ice conditions and how it's not conducive to their stick-handling skills. How do they combat that? They need to get pucks deep in the offensive zone and out work the Penguins to get puck possession deep in the zone.
That style of play might help the Penguins more than the Caps.
With Max Talbot in the box for holding and the Capitals on the power play, Mike Green stepped into the slot and fell. The loose puck bobbled around in front of the net where Mike Knuble found it and poked it past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
It's Knuble's ninth goal of the season and it tied up the 2011 Winter Classic at 1-1 with about 14 minutes left in the second period. Assists went to Nicklas Backstrom and Green.
Video of the goal:
The Capitals seem to be rolling now, getting sustained pressure in the Pittsburgh end for several shifts following the goal.
Marc-Andre Fleury flipped the puck out of the defensive zone and out to center ice. Along the wall, Evgeni Malkin picked up the loose puck, used a burst of speed to get by the one defenseman standing between him and the goal, and went in on net alone.
A simple Malkin shot through the five hole of goaltender Seymon Varlamov gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead, followed by an awesome celebration where Malkin essentially jumped into his teammates on the bench.
Video of the goal:
Seconds after the goal, Brooks Laich of the Capitals stormed the crease of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He was whistled for goaltender interference, giving the Penguins a man advantage. The Capitals were able to successfully kill it off, though. Things are certainly getting chippy.
After one period of play at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, the Capitals and Penguins are scoreless in the 2011 Winter Classic.
The period was highlighted by a fight between Mike Rupp and John Erskine just about 12 minutes in, one of the most entertaining we've seen this year. Then again, it helps that they're under the lights on a football field, too. People love good theater.
Jordan Staal, playing in his first game of the season (excellent timing), played 4:39 in that first period. He won 83 percent of his faceoffs, going 5 of 6. He took two shots and doled out two hits. Nice to see he's getting involved physically.
Each team had one power play attempt, but overall, the game is much slower than the typical indoor game thus far. That's surely an effect of the bad ice conditions. There's a brutal glare from the stadium lights and some parts of the ice clearly have puddles forming.
It's creating a sloppy hockey game, but these guys are in the NHL. They'll adapt throughout the evening, and the team that best adapts to the surroundings will likely win this game.
Just about 12 minutes into the first period of the 2011 Winter Classic, Mike Rupp of the Penguins and John Erskine of the Capitals dropped the gloves in one of the most entertaining fights of the season. Both players threw several solid punches and each landed a few as well.
The tussle went on for a strong 30 seconds or so, and we'll call the decision a draw. You can be your own judge. Video:
It's the second fight in Winter Classic history. Dan Carcillo of the Flyers fought Shawn Thornton of the Bruins a year ago at Boston's Fenway Park.
The Capitals and Penguins have taken to the ice at Heinz Field, and with the rain that fell on Pittsburgh today and the mild temperatures, the ice certainly looks slick. Via @bubbaprog:
Just looking at it on television, you can tell it's not in great shape.
There are two concerns here for the game. The water is clearly not freezing as fast as they would like it to, which can impact the play on the ice. Just think of pushing a puck through water. Not so easy. This could lead to a sloppy hockey game.
Also, the lights are creating a glare off the ice which could cause some interesting visibility issues that these guys usually don't have to deal with. We'll see if it impacts the game much.
One thing is for sure, though: in terms of visuals, this under the lights thing is incredible.
Tonight's Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will begin at around 8:12 p.m. Eastern time. Television coverage will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
In the United States, NBC will host the festivities. In Canada, CBC has things covered.
If you can't be near a TV, or you want to watch the game while keeping college football on at the same time, each network will provide a live Internet stream of the game. For U.S. viewers, click here to watch the game, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.
The stream will likely only work for viewers in the United States, but Canadian viewers can watch a similar stream thanks to CBC. RDS had French-language coverage for the Canadian fan.
The 2011 Winter Classic between the Penguins and Capitals was originally scheduled to take place on Friday, but rain forced the outdoor hockey game to Saturday. The threat of adverse weather still looms at Heinz Field, however.
According to weather.com, there is an 80% chance of rain at 7 p.m. Pittsburgh time. Here's the hour-by-hour forecast for Saturday evening:
This is bad news for those involved, given that the game is set to begin at 8 p.m. Throughout the day, crews have been working to remove thousands of gallons of water from the Heinz Field rink. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, though, is at least happy that the game is now being played after sunset. From DC Sports Bog:
"If it was sunny as it was yesterday when we practiced at that time, that sun was coming up, that ice was melting faster than Frosty the Snowman," the coach said on Saturday. "The sun was so bright in that one spot, you couldn't freeze the ice."
We'll have further updates on the weather and playing conditions as we near the scheduled 8 p.m. start. In the meantime, be sure to check out our Penguins blog, PensBurgh, and our Capitals blog, Japers' Rink.
Fans looking forward to the 2011 Winter Classic today have become fans heading out to the Winter Classic tonight, thanks to weather that pushed back the game. If you're one of the fans heading out to the game to see the Penguins host the Capitals at Heinz Field at 8 p.m., there are a few new rules to be aware of.
From the NHL via email:
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)
There's also this caveat, likely put in place in case of further adverse weather tonight and for the safety of the players.
Once the game has begun, it may be subject to one or more temporary stoppages due to unplayable weather conditions, at the discretion of the Commissioner.
That's an interesting stipulation, and one that makes sense: if rain or heat makes the ice unplayable, there's not much the NHL can do but get it fixed quickly. But the way that's phrased — giving power to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, renowned for his spotless record of decision-making — won't make many NHL fans happy.
*This is sarcasm.
And now it's official: the NHL's 2011 Winter Classic will be a primetime treat.
CBS Sports' Wes Goldstein tweets that the NHL has announced that Winter Classic will begin at 8 p.m. on NHL Network.
On NHL Network, Dep. Comissioner Bill Daly says Winter Classic start time moved back to 8 p.m.
This will be the first primetime game in the short history of the Winter Classic, and it should be poised to do great ratings. The two teams in the game — the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals — are very good, and carry brand names that make them recognizable to the average sports fan. (Those brands have only been burnished by HBO's fantastic 24/7 series leading up to this game.)
Plus, moving this game from its previous 1 p.m. start might dodge college football games like the Outback Bowl that would siphon away regional audience (Penn State takes on Florida in that game) and the Rose Bowl, which pits Wisconsin against TCU in a good matchup for casual fans.
It may be inconvenient, but NBC and the NHL can't be terribly displeased with this postponement.
We already mentioned that rain was threatening the viability of a Winter Classic game happening at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Now, we don't need to worry about that: the 2011 Winter Classic will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Heinz Field.
After the the Washington Post's Katie Carrera cited a source saying the NHL could push back the game, NBC4's Lindsay Czarniak tweeted that "buzz" has the Winter Classic dropping the puck at 8 p.m.
That would be a first for the NHL, and might be a great one. Moving its premier regular season matchup to primetime on New Year's Day will likely create an even better TV showcase for the event, which has been a pleasant surprise for the NHL in the HD era. And, unintentionally, the NHL is getting a better landscape for the Winter Classic, which would only compete with the Fiesta Bowl — featuring the BCS' biggest mismatch this year in the form of Connecticut taking on Oklahoma — for sports viewers on Saturday night.
Nothing's certain just yet, but we'll have confirmation of the move when it happens.
The Penguins are set to take to the ice at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, while the Washington Capitals will take to the ice at 2:00 p.m. Each practice should last about a half hour to 45 minutes.
NHL Network is providing a live online stream of today's practice day. Watch it right here:
Mario Lemieux and the Penguins' alumni tied Peter Bondra and the Capitals' alumni on Friday morning in a friendly game at Heinz Field. Jimmy Rixner of SB Nation Pittsburgh was there. He filed this report:
Mario Lemieux skated for the Penguins and showed off some excellnt 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.
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.
WPXI in Pittsburgh has updated their forecast for New Years' Day, and according to them, there's now a 90 percent chance of rain at Heinz Field on Saturday. That's not particularly comforting to the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, who are hoping to play a meaningful hockey game there at 1 p.m. Eastern.
But will the NHL be able to play the game later in the afternoon, as their backup plan dictates? The hour-by-hour forecast from Weather.com predicts that no, they won't.
Like we've said all week, mild temperatures are fine but heavy rain is not. It will puddle on the ice and when it does freeze, will create a dangerous, uneven playing surface.
The optimal outcome for this weekend's Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals is the scenario that's been planned for weeks: after about a half hour of NBC pre-game, the puck drops around 1:30 p.m. without issue.
As the forecast continues to look grim, however, with rain in the forecast for most of Saturday afternoon, the NHL is kicking their backup plans into overdrive. The League's chief operating officer, John Collins, briefed reporters on Thursday afternoon.
"We're planning to play at 1 o'clock. We've got maximum flexibility to do what we need to do to get that game in on Saturday. If for some reason it was completely unplayable, we have other options, but we fully expect to get the game in on Saturday."
That "maximum flexibility" involves the other two options the NHL has at their disposal. They could push the game back to later on Saturday afternoon, or they could even postpone the game until Sunday, January 2.
Collins stressed that it's not the end of the world, and that this weather isn't the kind of thing that will lead to an all-out cancellation of the outdoor game.
"Hopefully [the weather] is going to change," he said. " ... We're not talking about a blizzard. We're not talking about lightning. We're not talking about tremendously high winds. We're not talking about any of those type of things that would create that kind of a crisis. We'll do what we need to do."
There's a 70 percent chance of rain for New Year's Day on Saturday, with most of the showers falling between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m, just when the Penguins and Capitals are hoping to battle on the ice at Heinz Field. That's the forecast from WPXI in Pittsburgh.
Temperatures are still predicted to be warm -- around 50 degrees -- but that's not a problem for Dan Craig and the NHL's high-tech ice machines. As we've mentioned before, however, the game cannot be played in any rain harder than a drizzle. The water won't freeze fast enough and it will puddle on the ice, making hockey impossible.
We brushed the forecast off earlier in the week, comparing it to the same situation we saw last year in Boston. The weather looked bad four days before the game a year ago, as well, and as it turned out, things were perfect on game day. Now, though, we're exactly 48 hours from puck drop and things still look grim.
The NHL can't control, yet somehow, they're saying that they're "committed" to a 1 P.M. start time for Saturday's Winter Classic, rain be damned. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
National Hockey League officials say they remain committed to starting the Winter Classic between the Penguins and Washington Capitals at Heinz Field shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday, just as scheduled.
Whether the weather will cooperate still isn't clear, however.
The forecast hasn't changed much since yesterday. According to Weather.com, we're still looking at temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and about a 50 percent chance of rain. Those mild temps are fine, but the game can't be played in rain heavier than a drizzle.
The NHL may be committed to their original start time, but as the week goes on and the weather forecast stays the same, it looks less and less like they'll be able to commit to anything. We'll see.
Your Tuesday morning, Winter Classic-is-four-days-away weather update: Weather.com is calling for temperatures around 47 degrees Fahrenheit and a 50 percent chance of rain.
It looks as though the rain should taper off as night falls, so perhaps the game could be played under the lights at Heinz Field instead of the scheduled 1 p.m. Eastern start time, as scheduled. That's only if this current forecast holds, of course.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the NHL continues to build the rink atop the football field. NHL.com has a live web cam on the site which you can see right here:
With rain threatening this Saturday's Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals at Heinz Field, the NHL is thinking about the possibility of playing the game at night. Kevin Allen of USA Today is reporting that the networks -- NBC in the United States and CBC in Canada -- have said that the game could be played late into the evening hours on Saturday night to avoid the rain that's in the forecast.
The game could also be played on Sunday, head-to-head with the NFL, or in a disaster scenario, could be played indoors at the Pens' usual home, CONSOL Energy Center. The NHL doesn't want either of those scenarios to play out, though, for obvious reasons. For the record, CONSOL seats about 50,000 less people than Heinz Field. Ticketing nightmare? Yes, indeed.
All of this might not matter, of course, if the weather turns out to be cooperative. This is the weather we're talking about here. Things change quickly, and we were dealing with the same threat of bad weather a year ago in Boston. There's a possibility that rain completely evacuates the forecast by the weekend.
Three years ago in Buffalo, when the Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the inaugural Winter Classic game, light snow fell on Ralph Wilson Stadium. The scene was everything the NHL's event planners could have dreamed for.
Two years ago in Chicago, there was no snow but the weather cooperated just fine, and last year in Boston, things worked out as well. The story could be different when the NHL hosts the 2011 Winter Classic at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Saturday.
The forecast, according to AccuWeather.com, calls for a warm, wet New Years' Day, with rain and temperatures in the 50s. Those kind of temperatures aren't a problem for the outdoor ice rink, as they're able to create ice in temperatures upwards of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain is a serious issue, though.
Light drizzle is about all the rink can handle. It would simply freeze over on the surface and the game would be played without issue. Anything heavier than drizzle would be an issue, however, because it would puddle on the rink. You can't push a hockey puck through a puddle, and there's no way to get rid of those puddles.
If the game is unable to be played, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that it will go off on Sunday, January 2. (That day has a similar forecast, by the way.)
Should we be worried at this point? Let's take last year as an example. On December 28, the forecast in Boston called for rain on New Years' Day. Three days later, skies were clear and the game went off without a hitch. Here's what Don Renzulli, an NHL Senior VP, had to say about that grim forecast a year ago.
"[The forecast] changes daily. Yesterday we were expecting one to two inches today. That didn't happen. We were expecting a 50 percent chance of snow on game day, and now it's looking like rain and about 37 [degrees]. I guess I'm used to just waiting a day or so because it will change. We will see what happens, and we will adjust to it in the next couple of days and through the nights."
The moral of the story? Wait and see.
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