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.

Video: Flames goalie makes incredible behind-the-back glove save

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A save of the year candidate in September? It’s possible.

Jon Gillies of the Calgary Flames made an incredible stop during Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Vancouver Canucks.

The camera angle from directly above the net is the best, as it clearly shows how Gillies appeared to bump the puck back toward the goal line, then suddenly reach back with a no-look, behind-the-back glove save to prevent a Canucks goal and stop play.

That is one incredible save.

Drouin shows ‘commitment’ to community with donation to Montreal hospital

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Jonathan Drouin has yet to play a regular season game for his new team, the Montreal Canadiens.

But after getting traded to the Habs in the summer, Drouin has already made a sizable contribution in the community, donating $500,000 over 10 years to the University of Montreal Hospital Centre and planning to help in the fundraising activities to raise an additional $5 million, according to The Canadian Press.

From Sportsnet:

“I think all of that had some impact on his overall decision making,” Drouin’s agent Allan Walsh told Sportsnet. “One day when he’s retired and 50 years old, that hospital [which will begin serving patients for the first time this coming October] will still be here and he’ll have played a role in its development. That means something to him.

“But I think more than anything else he wants to help people. If he can help people—the hospital is going to be the largest hospital in North America and there’s a tremendous need for it in the city—and if he can use the fact that he plays for the Montreal Canadiens to do that, I wish more players felt that kind of responsibility to their communities.”

As noted in the Sportsnet piece above, Drouin is following in the footsteps of Saku Koivu and P.K. Subban, who made generous donations in the community during their time in Montreal.

The Habs acquired Drouin from the Lightning in June, sending prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay. They then signed the 22-year-old forward — who was born in nearby Ste-Agathe, Que. — to a six-year, $33 million contract.

It won’t be long before the pressure falls on Drouin’s on-ice ability, especially playing as a potential No. 1 center in Montreal and essentially being a hometown player for the Habs. But without even playing a meaningful game for his new team, he’s already giving back to an important cause in the city.

“And when you look at that, if you make $6 million and you give $50,000 a year, it’s not a big deal and you get tax receipts,” he said, per the Montreal Gazette. “But it’s a commitment, and being involved in the community and doing something for your community I think it’s something that you have to do.”

Lupul apologizes, takes ‘full responsibility’ after calling out Maple Leafs on Instagram

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Joffrey Lupul made headlines earlier this week after appearing to make accusations against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Instagram.

The comments — which have since been deleted but caught on a screen grab — came after the Maple Leafs announced Lupul failed his physical prior to training camp for the second year in a row.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per the screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

On Wednesday, the 33-year-old forward, who hasn’t played since the 2015-16 season, posted a statement on his verified Twitter account, saying his Instagram comments were an “inappropriate response.”

Here is his entire statement:

What’s also significant is that he stated he will not seek a second medical opinion regarding this failed physical. As previously noted, that option was available to him, although, per reports, the deadline for this was 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Lupul is in the final year of his five-year, $26.25 million contract.

Erik Cole retires as a member of the Hurricanes

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Erik Cole has officially retired.

The Carolina Hurricanes made the announcement on Wednesday, stating that Cole signed a ceremonial contract with the NHL team and retired as a member of the Hurricanes.

Now 38 years old, Cole played 892 regular season games in the NHL, scoring 265 goals and 532 points. A number of his best seasons occurred while he was with the Hurricanes, reaching 30 goals with the 2005-06 Stanley Cup winning team.

His best season came with the Montreal Canadiens in 2011-12, as he scored 35 goals and 61 points.

His last season was in 2014-15. He began the year in Dallas and was moved to Detroit at the trade deadline, but a spinal cord contusion essentially meant an end to his playing career.

From the Detroit Free Press in April, 2015:

Cole revealed Wednesday that he has a spinal cord contusion severe enough doctors have cautioned him not to play again this spring.

“It stems back from my neck injury in 2006,” Cole said. “When I ran into the player in the Arizona game, I bruised my spinal cord. A spinal contusion is something that you have to let heal and obviously, it’s a pretty serious occurrence. Doctors feel I need to look out for my well-being as a person, not just as a hockey player.”

Cole is now a team ambassador for the Hurricanes.