Five biggest factors for the 2011 Winter Classic

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The Winter Classic is tomorrow night and while it’s still just another regular season game, it’s also a game featuring two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and being played on the biggest stage outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs. We’ve seen how these two teams battle each other already this year with the Pens winning a in a shootout just before Christmas, but what can we look out for in this year’s game? We’ve got a list of the five things we think will be the biggest factors in this year’s game.

1. Washington goaltending

The Caps have one of the youngest goaltending duos in the NHL and this season we’ve seen our fair share of work from Michal Neuvirth who has led the Caps in wins this season. Semyon Varlamov is back and now splitting time with Neuvirth. Varlamov is the guy who was their de facto starter heading into the year, but injury problems have plagued him. Whether coach Bruce Boudreau goes with Varlamov or Neuvirth to start the Winter Classic could give us an idea of who he thinks is the guy that gives them an edge in a big game. How they handle themselves on such a huge stage in this game could be the sort of thing that gives the Caps an idea who their go-to guy could be.

With Varlamov and Neuvirth both being as young as they are things can change at any time. The Caps’ season is riding on either of these young goalies so getting a test like this early on can only help them out along the way. With Pens coach Dan Bylsma having made note of what he thought about Michal Neuvirth’s ability on the last episode of 24/7, you have to wonder if perhaps the Pens have a preferred Caps goalie they’d like to see.

2. The Sidney Crosby factor

You can’t help but wonder what the buzz and hype would’ve been for this game had Crosby’s point streak been able to continue. Instead, Sid the Kid and the Penguins come into this game off a tough and frustrating loss to the Islanders that saw Sid kept off the scoreboard for the first time in 25 games. If you’re looking for the perfect storm to put together to have Crosby get back into the swing of things, this is it. Having him face off with one of his biggest rivals in Washington and having the motivation to get his scoring touch back, you can’t help but think that Crosby will explode for a big game in front of even more home fans at the Winter Classic.

3. The Capitals dark days are over

All right so things weren’t quite as bleak as HBO’s 24/7 made them out to be, but the Caps’ eight game losing streak is behind them and it appears they’ve learned that losing can be the greatest motivator. After getting dumped in the first round of the playoffs as the Presidents Trophy winners and after stumbling through an erratic and miserable losing streak, the Caps renewed dedication to defense might be paying dividends. The Caps aren’t getting involved in shootout-type games anymore and if their big offensive guns can find their stride again, all of a sudden the Caps are a force to be reckoned with. With the Caps having their confidence back, they won’t be shaken very easily.

4. The role of the role player

Sure, it’s easy to pick out Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, or Nicklas Backstrom as the guys who will make a difference in the game, but the Winter Classic has that ability to play out like a playoff game and that means having to look out for the unsung heroes on each team. The Caps and Pens both have guys like that in spades. We’ve seen in the past that Maxime Talbot can turn a game and win a Stanley Cup, so what’s to keep him from stealing the spotlight in the Winter Classic? The same case can be made of guys like Brooks Laich and David Steckel of Washington playing the part of blue collar guys that can turn a game in their favor.

5. The weather

Yeah, we know you’ve heard almost too much about it by now but there’s no doubt that the weather forecast is looming over how things are going to go on New Year’s Day.  It’s looming over things so much so that the game has been re-scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. Saturday night. While the rain should clear out by the late afternoon or early evening, if it causes problems mid-game there are some rules in place that will help figure things out. Of course, if the rain persists though… We could be looking at Sunday for a game.

Blues reportedly avoid arbitration with Parayko by inking him to five-year, $27.5 million contract

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The St. Louis Blues and Colton Parayko were scheduled to have an arbitration hearing this morning, but it sounds like that will no longer be necessary.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the two sides have agreed to terms on a five-year contract extension worth a total of $27.5 million ($5.5 million AAV).

Heading into arbitration, Parayko was reportedly looking for a one-year deal worth$4.85 million, while St. Louis was offering two years at $7 million total.

Obviously, the Blues paid a little more on this contract, but that’s because they were able to “buy” some of Parayko’s free-agent years.

The 24-year-old just completed his second season with the Blues. He managed to four goals, 35 points and 32 penalty minutes in 81 games.

Parayko also saw his average ice-time increase from his first year to his second year, as he played just over 21 minutes per game in 2016-17.

On top of his two solid seasons in St. Louis, he also opened some eyes at this year’s World Hockey Championship, where he had three goals and seven points in six games for Team Canada. He averaged 24 minutes of ice-time during the tournament, and Canada went on to win silver.

Nolan Patrick is dealing with ‘an infection in his face’

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Nolan Patrick just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to staying healthy.

Patrick was scheduled to skate at the Flyers’ practice facility on Thursday morning, but the team announced that he would be unable to do so because of an infection in his face.

Patrick missed a good chunk of games during the 2016-17 WHL season because of sports hernia surgery, but that didn’t stop the Philadelphia from making him the second overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft.

The Flyers recently announced that he had undergone a second similar procedure right before the draft, which kept him out of their development camp earlier this month.

Earlier this week, the 18-year-old signed his three-year, entry-level contract with his new team.

Of course, GM Ron Hextall would love for his prized rookie to crack the opening night roster, but he needs to show he can stay healthy before that happens.

Related:

Nolan Patrick thinks he can make immediate NHL jump with Flyers

Nolan Patrick dealt with two hernias

PHT Morning Skate: On how Jacques Plante ‘revolutionized’ hockey

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Brian Campbell may have spoken to teams about continuing his career, but he didn’t start negotiating with any of them because he knew he wasn’t willing to continue playing. “I’ve been thinking about [retirement] for a while. At the end of the season, I didn’t know if I was ready to do it anymore. So that was only fair. But I will say July 1 was tough, a tough day. There’ve been some tough days. But I think we’re happy with our decision.” (CSN Chicago)

–The Hockey Writers ranked each team’s farm system from 1 to 31. Interestingly enough, the Vegas Golden Knights don’t have the worst system in the league. That honor belongs to the San Jose Sharks. The number one team on the list is the Philadelphia Flyers. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been with the Oilers for six years now, but he still hasn’t established himself as one of the dominant forces on the team. Per the Edmonton Journal, he could be skating on thin ice. “With Draisaitl likely to be paid next season and McDavid already signed to big money the following campaign, the cap budget at centre is tight. Whether Nugent-Hopkins stays or goes in the longer term, he needs a major bounceback next season to prove his worth.” (Edmonton Journal)

–On Nov. 1, 1959, Jacques Plante revolutionized the game of hockey by putting on a goalie mask for the first time. NHL.com contributor Stan Fischler wrote: “The legacy of Plante’s decision is evident in today’s game. Not only are all goaltenders required to wear a mask, but teams must dress two goalies for every game. And when a goalie’s mask comes off during a game, the whistle is blown and play is stopped.” It’s a remarkable story. (NHL.com)

–It’s always fun to think about how teams over in Europe would do against an NHL team. With the help of a couple of Russian hockey journalists, The Score put together a KHL all-star team, and asked fans to vote on where they think that team would finish in the NHL. Most people feel like the KHL all-stars would finish somewhere between 17th and 29th in the NHL. (The Score)

Justin Williams signed a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes this summer, which means he had to move out of Washington. Some of his valuables got a little more attention than others:

Teammates, friends were glad to see Okposo back on the ice

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From the sound of things, Kyle Okposo‘s presence at “Da Beauty League” was a beautiful sight for Buffalo Sabres teammates, former teammates on the New York Islanders, and friends around the NHL.

NHL.com’s Jessi Pierce was at that informal game, which apparently didn’t go well for Okposo’s team.

That’s not the important part, certainly not in July. While Pierce noted that Okposo wasn’t comfortable answering questions during his first on-ice action in almost four months, it sounds like the talented winger was looking good on Wednesday night.

Onlookers agreed with that sentiment, and also seconded the notion that he’s been doing well this summer, overall.

“Obviously seeing a teammate go through something like that and struggle to get healthy is tough,” Sabres teammate Hudson Fasching said, via Pierce’s piece for NHL.com. “He’s such a good guy and going through a lot with that whole deal, trying to figure out what was wrong.

“I’m just happy he’s healthy and happy for him to get back.”

It was already noted that Okposo is expected to be ready for Sabres training camp, yet nights like these make it clearer that he’s likely on course. That’s a fantastic turnaround from his health scare in April.

Pierce also has more here.