Winter Classic

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.

NHL has no plans to change waiver rules

Manny Malhotra Ryan Stanton
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Even with all the young players that have been healthy scratches this season, don’t expect the NHL to change its waiver rules.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told PHT in an email that it’s not something that’s “ever been considered.”

“For better or worse that’s what waiver rules are there for,” Daly wrote. “They force Clubs to make tough decisions.”

Today, Montreal defenseman Jarred Tinordi became the latest waiver-eligible youngster to be sent to the AHL on a two-week conditioning loan.

Tinordi, 23, has yet to play a single game for the Habs this season. If he were still exempt from waivers, he’d have undoubtedly been sent to the AHL long before he had to watch so many NHL games from the press box.

In light of situations like Tinordi’s, some have suggested the NHL change the rules. Currently, the only risk-free way for waiver-eligible players to get playing time in the AHL is via conditioning stint, and, as mentioned, those are limited to 14 days in length.

So the Habs will, indeed, need to make a “tough decision” when Tinordi’s conditioning stint is up. Do they put him in the lineup? Do they keep him in the press box and wait for an injury or some other circumstance to create an opportunity for him to play? Do they risk losing him to waivers by attempting to send him to the AHL? Do they trade him?

Your call, Marc Bergevin.

Related: Stanislav Galiev is stuck in the NHL

Ortio clears waivers, assigned to Flames’ AHL team

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Joni Ortio has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Stockton, the Calgary Flames announced today.

The 24-year-old goalie was always likely to clear, what with his dreadful numbers this season (0-2-1, .868),

But we suppose there was always the chance he’d get picked up, so it’s a relief for the Flames all the same. With a little more time to hone his game in the AHL, Ortio could still turn out to be a quality NHL netminder.

In a related move, veteran goalie Jonas Hiller has been activated from injured reserve. Hiller and Karri Ramo are the only goalies on the Flames’ active roster now.

Price placed on injured reserve; Yakupov to miss 2-4 weeks with sprained ankle

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Two injury updates in one post.

First, the situation with Montreal goalie Carey Price, who was hurt last night versus the Rangers.

According to Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, Price has been placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. That means he’ll be out at least a week, though no exact timeline was provided.

“We don’t know how long Carey will be out, but for us it’s business as usual,” said Therrien.

Mike Condon will get the start tomorrow in New Jersey.

As for Oilers forward Nail Yakupov, he’ll be out 2-4 weeks after spraining his ankle last night in Carolina while getting tangled up with a linesman.

Getzlaf didn’t love the ‘dead’ atmosphere at Coyotes game

Martin Erat, Ryan Getzlaf

Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf wasn’t impressed with at least two things last night in Arizona:

1. His team’s performance in a 4-2 loss to the Coyotes.
2. The atmosphere inside Gila River Arena, where the announced attendance was just 11,578.

“It’s hard. When you come into a building … it’s dead,” Getzlaf told the O.C. Register. “Nothing against the fans. It’s hard to fill a big building like this and have the amount of people in it to build your energy. So you have to do it yourself. You have to be ready when you step on the ice. I thought we came out flat.”

Anaheim’s record fell to 8-11-4 with the defeat.

The Coyotes’ average attendance also fell, to 13,144 in eight games.