Penguins-Capitals Winter Classic preview lives up to hype; Pittsburgh squeaks out 3-2 shootout win

Whenever people gripe about the hype heaped upon Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, I tend to half-agree. I think of it in the same way as a family would divvy up slices of pizza; Crosby and Ovechkin get too many pieces, but they still deserve the biggest ones because they deliver more often than not.*

The Pittsburgh Penguins came into this game with people expecting them to win, but they played against the Florida Panthers last night and were visiting a rested Washington Capitals team in this one.

While the Capitals dominated quite a few stretches of play, Marc-Andre Fleury and Crosby stood tall to help the Penguins earn a hard-fought shootout win.

Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2 (SO)

Crosby factored in both of the Penguins’ regulation goals, scoring the game’s first goal and then creating enough havoc to allow Chris Kunitz to score a 2-1 tally. Crosby extended his points streak to 23 games with that goal and assist, giving him the longest streak since Mats Sundin scored in 30 straight games during the 1992-93 season. That gives Crosby the longest post-lockout scoring streak, with 23 goals and 22 assists for 45 points in that span.

Sid was far from the only star to shine in this game, though. Convenient scapegoat/explosive offensive defenseman Mike Green was outstanding, as you can see from this tweet by Corey Masisak.

Mike Green ends up with 34:03 of ice time. Goal, six shots, eight hits, 5 blocked shots. Felt like he was hit 34 times. What an effort.

That’s quite the stat line for the brave souls who choose to give their Norris Trophy votes to Green (and not just because he tends to lead the NHL in scoring among defensemen).

Fleury is playing his best hockey since the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup run (he actually was average at best during many games in their Cup winning summer a year later), as he was the reason the team managed to get to the shootout in the first place. He made 32 saves overall and only allowed one goal through the first two periods despite the fact that Washington out-shot Pittsburgh 25-12 in that span. He also made a controversial stop in overtime, as it was unclear if Green scored an overtime winner because Fleury’s glove covered up a puck that may or may not have crossed the red line.

The Capitals kept applying pressure in the game, coming back from a 1-0 deficit with a Green goal and a 2-1 Penguins lead thanks to a sharp shorthanded goal by Mike Knuble, but couldn’t land a knockout blow because Fleury was on fire.

The game was hard hitting, competitive and about as captivating as any hockey fan could ask for. While it was disappointing that the contest ended in a shootout, Ovechkin and Kris Letang scored beauties in that setup to start things off. After that, Fleury and Michal Neuvirth lasted six more rounds until Pascal Dupuis roofed the puck to win the game for the Penguins.

It’s hard to imagine the Winter Classic topping this game, but considering the frequency Crosby, Ovechkin and with which these two teams deliver, it wouldn’t be shocking if the game earned its classic name.

* – Before you reply with some kind of “choking in the playoffs” comment, don’t forget that Ovechkin managed 10 points in that 7-game series against Montreal in the 2009-10 playoffs. One player cannot influence a game in the same way as a sport like basketball, so give Ovi a break.

It’s official: Crosby makes season debut for Penguins

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 18:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 18, 2015 in New York City. The Penguins defeated the Rangers 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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All signs pointed to it happening earlier in the day, but it is now official: Sidney Crosby is making his 2016-17 debut on Tuesday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Florida Panthers.

Crosby, the captain of the Penguins and the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner, missed the first six games of the season due to a concussion. He was injured during practice following the World Cup of Hockey where he led Canada to a championship. Given how much time he missed a few years ago with a concussion only missing six games a positive development for both him and the Penguins.

Crosby will open the game skating on the Penguins’ top line alongside wingers Patric Hornqvist and Scott Wilson.

Along with Crosby return to the lineup, goaltender Matt Murray is also in uniform for the Penguins for the first time this season and will serve as Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup.

Murray, who took over the starting job in the playoffs last year when Fleury was sidelined at the start of the first round, was injured at the World Cup while playing for Team North America and has been sidelined since.

Even with the return of Crosby and Murray on Tuesday the Penguins are still missing a pretty significant player as defenseman Kris Letang remains sidelined with an upper body injury.

WATCH LIVE: Sabres at Flyers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 11: Radko Gudas #3 of the Philadelphia Flyers and Jake McCabe #29 of the Buffalo Sabres fight in the third period at Wells Fargo Center on February 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers won 5-1.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. This match-up features two teams off to slow starts and looking to work their way up the standings in their respective divisions.

You can check out the action on NBCSN or the NBC Sports’ Live Extra (7:30 pm ET).


Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Flyers put Raffl (upper body) on IR

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Flyers; Ducks vs. Sharks

Bylsma: ‘We need to get more’ out of Reinhart

Flyers put Raffl (upper body) on IR

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Michael Raffl (12) maintains control of the puck against New York Rangers center Derick Brassard (16) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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After missing the last week with an upper-body ailment, Flyers forward Michael Raffl has been placed on injured reserve.

To fill his spot, the Flyers recalled Taylor Leier from AHL Lehigh Valley.

Raffl, 27, has appeared in three games this season, scoring once while averaging 12:21 TOI per night. He hasn’t suited up since a 7-4 loss to Chicago on Oct. 18, failing to suit up for Thursday’s loss to Anaheim, Saturday’s win over Carolina and yesterday’s 3-1 defeat in Montreal.

The Flyers are taking on Buffalo tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Philly could make this IR designation retroactive to last Tuesday, which is when Raffl last played. It’s unclear how GM Ron Hextall will handle Raffl’s $2.35 million cap hit with regards to IR, but he’ll need to do some adjusting soon once injured defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forward Scott Laughton get back in the mix.

Five NHL team stats you may find interesting

Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher, right, celebrates after scoring against Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, center, and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), of Sweden, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

14 — The number of shorthanded goals surrendered by the Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, this topic has been beaten to death already, but for good reason. The next highest number in the NHL is eight, courtesy the Calgary Flames. It’s just very unlike the ‘Hawks. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, two of the best defenders in the game, have been on the ice for nine PP goals against! Jonathan Toews, one of the best defensive forwards ever, hasn’t fared much better; he’s been on for seven.

9 — The number of power-play goals scored by the Nashville Predators. A pretty remarkable stat, especially considering the Preds have just two wins in their first five games. That kind of PP production can’t be counted on to continue, so they’d better improve at five-on-five. Also, avoid the soup in Detroit. It’ll getcha every time.

17 — The total number of goals scored in all five New Jersey Devils games. And in case you thought that was low, two of those goals came in overtime. So far, the highest-scoring game the Devils have experienced was a 3-2 loss in Tampa Bay, with each of the other four finishing with a score of 2-1. Average number of goals per game this season? Just 3.4.

7.4 — The average number of goals scored in an Ottawa Senators game. In other words, the Sens have a new coach, but not much has changed. Ottawa has played five games and has yet to give up fewer than three goals. Fun to watch, though.

-7.6 — The average shot differential for the Colorado Avalanche, who’ve still managed to win three of their first five. The Avs have only outshot one opponent so far, by just two shots in their season-opener against Dallas. In their last three games, they’ve been outshot by a combined margin of 105-62. To be fair, all three of those were on the road against tough teams, but lots of work left for Jared Bednar, too.