PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 31: Pittsburgh Penguins players look on during practice ahead of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals on December 31 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
A lot of fans around the league have a lot to say about the Penguins participating in the franchise's second Winter Classic since the outdoor series started up officially on January 1, 2008. I'm speaking strictly in hyperbole here, simply because I don't see the sense in highlighting any specific comments from other blogs. Surely you don't need any more examples by now.
But as a Penguins blog we have the added bonus of looking back on the last Winter Classic the Penguins took part in, beating the Sabres 2-1 in a shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. It was snowing, it was a slow-to-moderate tempo for the entire game and it ended with a shootout winner from the stick of Crosby that undoubtedly followed the script that NHL officials planned out prior to the game.
Thanks again for being such a good sport, Ryan Miller.
I started thinking earlier today about the players then and the players now. Even though Marc-Andre Fleury was on the Penguins for the last outdoor game, he did not play, as he was still recovering from a high-ankle sprain he suffered a month or so before the WC. Ty Conklin earned the win, while Dany Sabourin posed as backup.
How about the only regulation goal for the Penguins coming from Colby Armstrong? Sid earned the only assist of the game for the Pens as well on that play, a bing-bang-boom play that put the Pens up just 21 seconds into the game. I remember thinking at the time, "Wow. This game is going to finish 20-19." Was I wrong or what?
A few other names floating through the ether: Erik Christensen, who would soon be used as trade bait to lure Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh three months later. Just the other day Crusher sprained his knee, keeping him out of the Rangers' lineup for a questionable amount of time.
If you take one look on the blue line it's funny to see how much can change in just three seasons. Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang are the only two to carry over, with names like Rob Scuderi, Darryl Sydor and Ryan Whitney filling out the rest of the defensive pairings.
While word recently broke that Eric Godard is a no-go for a while after sustaining a broken nose in a fight with Matt Carkner, we're fondly reminded of the Penguins' 2007-08 enforcer Georges Laraque, who took to the ice for the Pens in the Winter Classic but unfortunately failed to drop the mitts in the first WC outdoor fight.
Pittsburgh's prodigal son Ryan Malone is another name to stand out from the last time around, who later left as a free agent in the offseason to sign a seven-year, $31.5 million deal with the Lightning. Adam Hall would follow as well at the season's end.
Also on the Pens but injured at the time: Gary Roberts, who suffered a broken leg just a week or two prior to the game and Max Talbot (high-ankle sprain). Interesting to also remember that earlier in the year the Penguins released Mark Recchi and later acquired Hal Gill and Pascal Dupuis at the deadline, with Dupuis the only remaining player from that trade deadline to crack the Penguins' roster in this year's Classic.
Petr Sykora, remembered for his heroics in triple-overtime in Game 5 of the Finals that same year, registered just one shot on goal in about 12 minutes of ice time. Universal pest and agitator Jarkko Ruutu actually managed to stay out of the penalty box for the game but did little on the offensive side. Jeff Taffe, who played in a total of 45 games that season for the Pens, was "that guy" for most of the season. By that I mean, he was on Ray Shero's speed dial whenever a player went down with an injury, which just happened to be the case that year when Sid also went down with a high-ankle sprain not long after the Winter Classic win.
Overall, only six players who played in the last Winter Classic for the Penguins in 2008 are with the team for the first game of 2011: Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Jordan Staal (provided he is healthy enough to play).
For those interested, here is the Pensburgh recap from the 2008 game.