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.

Bruins make short work of Coreau one game after he out-duels Price

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 1:  Jared Coreau #31 of the Detroit Red Wings holds his head after a Toronto Maple Leafs goal during the third period of the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic at BMO Field on January 1, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Sports almost always have a “What have you done for me lately” feel to them, but the ups and downs can be especially cruel to an NHL goalie. The margin between a great performance and an early night on the bench can often be quite small.

Take journeyman goalie Jared Coreau of the Detroit Red Wings for example.

The 25-year-old generated three wins and two shutouts in his past four games. That most recent shutout came as he out-dueled Carey Price in a 1-0 win for the Red Wings. Sure, he only needed to stop 18 shots, but he won a staring contest with Carey Price.

Now, on Wednesday, Coreau couldn’t even get through the first period against the Boston Bruins.

Coreau allowed three goals on eight shots and was pulled after 8:50 of game time, giving way to Petr Mrazek.

Now, not all of this is on Coreau. Boston just keeps hammering away, and they finally got to Mrazek late in the first period. Even so, it was a tough go for Coreau, and a reminder of just how tough that gig can be.

McKenzie: Blues, Shattenkirk are open-minded about discussing a trade

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Earlier today, PHT discussed that something seems “off” about the St. Louis Blues. Might they slip enough to justify trading high-scoring (but pending UFA) defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk?

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie covered a variety of interesting issues on “NHL Live” on Wednesday, including the feeling that both Shattenkirk and his team seem more “open minded” about considering a trade.

Since Dec. 11, the Blues have gone 7-8-1, giving them a 23-17-5 record overall. That’s not disastrous by any means, but St. Louis has grown to expect robust regular seasons (and dreams of bigger playoff successes), so somewhat middling results might make them more willing to move an expiring contract.

If the slippage continues, McKenzie reasons that the Blues would become that much more willing to listen to offers.

Circumstances also might make Shattenkirk a little more interested in a deal, too.

While McKenzie notes that Shattenkirk rejected the idea of signing a contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers, possibly spurning a move, the blueliner would be more amenable to a “trial run” this season. That could mean with the Oilers or another team – maybe a Canadian one? – that could use a puck-mover.

Does that mean that a trade is on the verge of happening? No, not necessarily, but it does hint that the team and player would at least consider a wider array of possibilities.

In other words, feel free to dream up all sorts of imaginary trade scenarios. Oh, and what the full video for more.

More from McKenzie on “NHL Live”

The murky situation for the New York Islanders.

Is Paul Maurice on the hot seat for the Winnipeg Jets?

Finally, discussing the possibility of a Shane Doan trade:

Isles GM Garth Snow on coaching search, Tavares and who calls the shots

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During Wednesday’s edition of “NHL Live,” NBCSN’s Liam McHugh asked New York Islanders GM Garth Snow many of the key questions surrounding the organization following the firing of head coach Jack Capuano.

It’s interesting stuff, even if Snow managed to play coy on some of the bigger questions … or, to use his phrasing, “remain quiet” and keep much of the process “behind the scenes.”

Snow cited the team’s mediocre record in explaining his decision to fire Capuano (but also recent breakthroughs to praise Capuano and explain that the Islanders are surrounding John Tavares with the kind of talent that will make him want to re-sign with the organization). To some extent, some of the most interesting parts of the interview came in what Snow didn’t say, as he gives the impression that he’ll need to run his decisions by the team’s ownership group.

Let’s run through a few of the issues Snow addresses, though you should watch the video either way:

Gallant

He mostly avoided that issue, hence keeping things “behind the scenes.”

Interim head coach Doug Weight

“Doug Weight’s our head coach. “He’s had a tremendous career as a player and behind our bench the last several seasons … he has a familiarity with players and the players have familiarity with him.”

Tavares

Snow didn’t provide anything new here, emphasizing that Tavares loves playing in front of their fans and other common points.

Who makes the decisions?

McHugh pressed Snow on whether or not he has the final say on a coaching hire and other issues. Snow didn’t really specify, insisting that “the days of dictatorship are gone.” It sounds like ownership will have plenty of say in big decisions.

***

The Islanders play their first game with Weight as interim coach on Thursday, as they take on a team in a different form of upheaval in the Dallas Stars. The table’s set for the Islanders to at least save some face; they finish the month of January with six straight home games.

Now, the longer-term future, including Snow’s own job security? That’s anyone’s guess, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie discussed here.

Video: McKenzie on the unclear future for Gallant, Weight and the Islanders

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NHL insider Bob McKenzie stopped by NBCSN’s NHL Live on Wednesday for a really interesting session on the New York Islanders. If you want some fascinating tidbits, the video above is full of great insight … but you might be just as confused as ever about the direction of the franchise.

(Probably because the Islanders give off the impression that they’re confused, too.)

Let’s break down some of the more intriguing material:

  • In one eyebrow-raising point, McKenzie said that the Islanders may have gone one step further than asking for the Florida Panthers’ permission to speak with Gerard Gallant. The Isles might have even done so weeks before they fired Jack Capuano. Wow.
  • Even so, that doesn’t guarantee that Gallant will be their future head coach. McKenzie deems that a “long shot” for now and notes that nothing is imminent.
  • Instead, “what you see is what you get,” which means that Doug Weight may serve as interim head coach for a healthy chunk of time. The situation seems in flux overall.

Weight seems fine with whatever, as ESPN reports.

“I’m going to give everything I have, whether it’s five games or 40 games or if it turns into 10 years,” Weight said.

  • Maybe most importantly, McKenzie said that more sweeping changes could come to the Islanders organization this summer. One could imply that GM Garth Snow is in a vulnerable spot, something PHT discussed after Capuano’s firing.
  • Also, Gallant could be in the running for the coaching gig in Las Vegas.

So, yeah, that video above this post’s headline is absolutely worth watching. The NHL Live crew also provides some insight about the Islanders’ struggles and future direction, so check it out.

… And stay tuned. More twists and turns could be coming in this story.