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.

Red Wings approach training camp with an expensive goalie situation

Detroit Red Wings' Petr Mrazek (34) replaces goalie Jimmy Howard (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

There was a stretch in January when Petr Mrazek wasn’t unbeatable, but it may have felt that way. He allowed only 12 goals during a nine-game stretch. Subsequently, he posted a 7-1-1 record that month.

Then, there was a stretch in February and into March when he gave up 24 goals in eight appearances, including a trio of five-spots and that got people talking. His coach, Jeff Blashill, said at the time that such a run in January — citing a .956 save percentage — simply wasn’t sustainable and that Mrazek’s struggles a short time later were part of the ebb and flow of a season.

When the playoffs began, Jimmy Howard started the first-round series versus Tampa Bay but gave up seven goals in two games, before giving way to Mrazek for the final three games.

Over the summer, the Red Wings and Mrazek were able to come to an agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal just before the two sides were to have a scheduled arbitration hearing.

That is a large raise from the $737,500 average annual value Mrazek was making on his entry-level contract. The Red Wings now have more than $9 million dedicated to both Mrazek and Howard in the salary cap.

Howard, 32, is signed for three more years at $5.29 million. He posted a 14-14-5 record, with a .906 save percentage, which is well below his career average of .915.

General manager Ken Holland — he’s under pressure — has offered conflicting takes on Howard’s future prospects in Detroit, saying he had thought about trading the veteran goalie but then he made the case to keep Howard almost as insurance in goal, as Detroit continues to develop Mrazek as the true No. 1.

“Some teams have goalies that make $8 million, $7 million,” Holland told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re on the higher end in terms of the money we’ve got in net, but we see goaltending as a strength for us.”

Blashill told MLive.com during the winter that he went into last season with a three-week plan to alternate between Howard and Mrazek, to see which of those two goalies could separate themselves and take charge of that No. 1 position.

The plan this time around will be one to keep an eye on when the season begins. It’s shaping up right now to be an expensive one.

Coyotes hire skating guru Dawn Braid, believed to be first full-time female coach in NHL history

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have hired Dawn Braid as skating coach and say she is believed to be the first full-time female coach in NHL history.

Braid has a long association with the NHL.

She worked part-time for the Coyotes last year and has served as a skating consultant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames.

Braid also spent seven years with the Athletes Training Center as director of skating development. Among the skaters she worked with while there is New York Islanders center John Tavares.

From NHL.com:

“Dawn has wanted to put me in to make myself a more powerful and efficient skater,” Tavares told NHL.com in 2012. “Dawn always says, ‘If you didn’t train properly and do the certain things you need to do, you’re not going to be strong enough to do the things I want you to do.'”

Braid’s hiring continues the trend of full-time female coaches in men’s pro sports; she follows Becky Hammon of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (2014) and Kathryn Smith of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills (2016) as the first full-time women’s coach in their respective leagues.

It’s all about experience for Red Wings sophomore bench boss Blashill

Detroit Red Wing training camp, day one
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

Let’s be honest: It’s probably not easy to replace a coach of Mike Babcock’s repute.

More than a year ago, Babcock went to the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs and is being paid a lot of money — an estimated $50 million over eight years — to coach in that market. Meanwhile, back in Detroit and with Babcock out of the picture, the Red Wings turned to Jeff Blashill as their new bench boss.

True, Blashill had spent time as a head coach in the USHL, college ranks and with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. But he had no experience as an NHL head coach prior to the 2015-16 season and just one season as an NHL assistant when he was part of Babcock’s staff in 2011-12.

After a 41-30-11 regular season record and another playoff appearance, the 25th straight in Detroit, the Red Wings were bounced in the first round. One of the priorities for general manager Ken Holland this offseason was to insulate Blashill by bringing in more experienced assistants.

The Red Wings hired John Torchetti, previously the interim head coach in Minnesota, and long-time Boston assistant Doug Houda. Those moves were part of a larger coaching shake-up within the organization, as Tony Granato left for a head coaching job at Wisconsin, goalie coach Jim Bedard was not brought back and assistant Pat Ferschweiler, who ran the team’s 13th-ranked power play last season, was reassigned.

Blashill told MLive.com that “player development” will be a large part of Ferschweiler’s role going forward.

“I think it’ll be a real benefit,” Blashill told the Detroit Free Press of the additions to the Red Wings staff. “Lots of years behind NHL benches. I’ve only had two years on an NHL bench. That’s a scenario where I can learn from their past experiences.”

It’s all about experience.

Two years ago, Blashill was touted by Holland as an “NHL coach in the making.” A month later, he was given a three-year contract extension to coach the Griffins, so clearly they thought highly of Blashill by keeping him as opposed to potentially losing him to another NHL club. A year later, he was tapped on to replace Mike Babcock.

In this case, patience may be required, too. That may be easier said than done from a fan’s perspective because as impressive as Detroit’s current run of consecutive playoff appearances is, they haven’t made it out of the first round in their last three tries.

“I think he’s a tremendous coach and I think he’s going to be in the League a long time. He’s had a lot of success at every level he’s been at except the NHL,” Holland told NHL.com.

“He did guide us to a playoff spot in a League when it’s hard to qualify for the playoffs, but I also think as you looked at our team last year, there were lots of decisions to be made and I think the experiences of last year are going to be important for Jeff.”

If the Red Wings place such a great deal of value on Blashill gaining experience, and leaning on the experience of veteran coaches beside him, it would seem then that they are willing to invest a substantial amount of time in him as he continues to grow and establish himself as an NHL coach.

But with such experienced assistant coaches having joined his staff this offseason, it makes you wonder about what could happen if the Red Wings struggle significantly or fail to make the playoffs.

“I think there’s always pressure in this job and there always will be and I welcomed that when I took the job,” Blashill told MLive.com this summer.

“But really, I don’t spend lots of time worrying about what could happen bad. I spend all my time worrying about how we’re going to do things to make sure we win.”

Bouwmeester named to Canada’s World Cup team, replacing the injured Duncan Keith

KANATA, ON - AUGUST 25:  Jay Bouwmeester #3 of Team Canada skates against Team USA during their exhibition game in the World Cup of Hockey on August 25, 2004 at the Corel Centre in Kanata, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/WCOH via Getty Images)
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St. Louis Blues veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has been named to Canada’s 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

He will replace Chicago Blackhawks blue liner Duncan Keith, who is rehabbing a right knee injury.

“As Duncan continues offseason rehabilitation on the right knee injury that he sustained last season, we understand his decision not to participate in next month’s World Cup of Hockey,” Blackhawks team physician, Dr. Michael Terry, said in a statement.

“We believe it is in his best interests to focus on getting stronger and not risk further injury.”

Bouwmeester, a left-handed shot just as Keith is, which maintains the left-right philosophy for defensive pairings, joins his Blues teammate Alex Pietrangelo on the Canadian roster.

The two not only play together in St. Louis, but they were matched together on the blue line for Canada when it won gold at the 2014 Olympics.

The decision is, well, an interesting one and open to plenty of debate, as the Team Canada brass opted to take Bouwmeester over other Canadian blue liners — right-handed shots P.K. Subban and Kris Letang among the names — with far more offensive production from the back end.