Winter Classic Hockey

2011 Winter Classic most watched regular season game in 36 years


Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin wasn’t kidding when he said how exciting it was to play in front of millions of hockey fans.

Over the last four years, the Winter Classic proved that it could work in baseball parks such as Wrigley Field and football stadiums such as Heinz Field. Due to some rain-based intervention, Saturday’s event was delayed from the afternoon to prime time. Instead of seeing ratings that plummeted because of this unplanned alteration, Saturday’s Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins game instead proved that outdoor hockey can be a ratings success in that coveted time slot.

The 2011 Winter Classic had 4.5 million viewers, the highest number to date for the annual event. The number beat out the 4.4 million viewers the 2009 Winter Classic from Chicago’s Wrigley Field had and was up 22% from the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston. The game was also the most watched regular season game in 36 years.

Maybe it was the high-end star power that comes with featuring Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin. Perhaps it had a lot to do with the amazing buildup created by various promotions including HBO’s outstanding 24/7 series. Then again, it could also have been the natural progression of the league’s progress combined with the improving Winter Classic brand.

Whatever the case may be, the ratings were fantastic for the Winter Classic.

As for how the game did around the country, obviously Pittsburgh and Washington tuned in in big ways, but other cities across the country also tuned in in big ways. Here’s the top 10 cities in ratings and shares for this year’s event in Pittsburgh.

1. Pittsburgh, 32.0/46

2. Washington D.C., 7.6/13

3. Baltimore, 6.6/11

4. Buffalo, 5.3/8

T5. St. Louis, 4.3/7

T5. Denver, 4.3/7

7. Boston, 4.0/7

8. Richmond, 3.8/6

9. Philadelphia, 3.5/6

10. Columbus, 3.4/6

Getting such a huge rating out of Pittsburgh is incredible. While it dwarfs the numbers seen out of Washington, D.C. keep in mind that Maryland and Virginia are also Caps country which is why you see Baltimore third and Richmond eighth on this list. All around, the success of this year’s event is tremendous. With over 68,000 fans at Heinz Field and the TV ratings and viewership being at new highs it’s clear that the NHL has a winning product on its hands.

Larkin will start season with Red Wings

Dylan Larkin
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Dylan Larkin — despite being just 19 years old — will begin the season on the Detroit Red Wings, a team not normally accustomed to having teenagers in the lineup.

Coach Jeff Blashill confirmed the news this morning. Larkin could apparently start on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Larkin, the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, had three goals and one assist in five preseason games. A natural center, he’s shown the potential to one day step into the kind of “big-time” role that Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have played for so long in Detroit.

“You have to give our scouts credit,” former coach Mike Babcock told ESPN in May. “We got a great pick where we picked. How high end is he? How soon?”

Related: Coaching change ‘one of the reasons’ Larkin signed with Wings

Preseason stats: Five goalies with good numbers, five goalies with…not

Anders Nilsson
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Yeah, yeah, it’s a small sample size and it’s just the preseason, but here are some goaltending stats anyway.

Five goalies with good numbers

Anders Nilsson, Edmonton — zero goals on 53 shots. His solid play a likely factor in the decision to waive Ben Scrivens, who actually wasn’t that bad in the preseason (4 goals on 56 shots).

Martin Jones, San Jose — three goals on 100 shots. The Sharks are rolling the dice on a couple of cheap goalies. Jones and Alex Stalock have a combined cap hit of just $4.6 million.

Jacob Markstom, Vancouver — three goals on 79 shots. Can he finally get over the NHL hump? If so, he could make it a real competition with Ryan Miller.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus — five goals on 122 shots. The Blue Jackets have scored a ton of goals in the preseason, but there remain questions about their blue line. Bobrovsky has the ability to make a so-so defense look good.

Anton Khudobin, Anaheim — two goals on 67 shots. A good early sign for the Ducks, who have Frederik Andersen in the starting role and want to give young John Gibson more time to develop in the AHL.

Five goalies with bad numbers

Thomas Greiss, Islanders — 14 goals on 94 shots. Has to be a bit of concern in Brooklyn. The Isles got below-average backup play last season from Chad Johnson. They wanted to fix that with the Greiss signing.

Robin Lehner, Buffalo — 11 goals on 95 shots. Tim Murray paid a hefty price to get the 24-year-old out of Ottawa. With the aforementioned Johnson in the backup role, the goaltending story is worth watching.

Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh — 11 goals on 74 shots. Granted, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matthew Murray weren’t particularly sharp either. The Penguins conceded 28 goals in eight games.

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas — 15 goals on 84 shots. For a Stars team that desperately needs better goaltending, that has to be worrying. Antti Niemi wasn’t a whole lot better either, allowing eight goals on 65 shots. Fair question to ask — how many of all those goals were attributable to poor defensive play?

Pekka Rinne, Nashville — 12 goals on 91 shots. Has earned the benefit of the doubt, but thought we’d point it out anyway.