Capitals Blog: Japers Rink
The hype leading up to this game (and every Winter Classic for that matter) is centered on the fact that hockey is going back to its roots, the players return to the childlike element of pond hockey and the tradition of the sport rises above all else during this new-fangled, annual charade. The unfortunate downside to this entire game is that the metaphor of "pond hockey" became more and more literal as the game went on, as poor ice conditions to start the game and the continuous downpour throughout created a surface that started to represent an actual pond before all was said and done. On the plus side, no one was injured as a result, although a number of players slipped and tripped over the 60 minutes of play.
Either way you look at it, the Capitals prevailed as winners in the fourth Winter Classic by the final score of 3-1. A more detailed recap after the jump.
In case you missed it, when the players were paired up like wedding couples to walk out to the ice alongside one another, the funniest grouping of the night was undoubtedly Max Talbot beside Alex Ovechkin. If any and/or all of it somehow finds its way onto HBO's 24/7 special, I believe we'll all be in for a laugh or two.
Have to give some props to Mike Rupp and John Erskine for dropping the mitts and mixing it up in the first period, although there is some healthy speculation that Rupp was either injured on the play or hurt to the point where he needed to throw in the towel. Not an apparent winner in my eyes, but if I had to give the 'W' to one of them I'd say Erskine gets the slight edge for coming out of it unscathed. Rupp would finish the night with a team low 5:29 of ice time, nothing new as of late anyway.
Outside of that fight, the remainder of the first period was rather uneventful. With the rain coming down and the ice conditions worsening throughout, it really was a matter of one team getting an early lead and holding onto it for the remainder of the game.
The Penguins were first to score when Evgeni Malkin made the most of a breakaway chance, kept it simple and ripped one past Semyon Varlamov to put the Penguins up 1-0 early in the second. The goal was made possible thanks to a solid heads-up play by Marc-Andre Fleury, who earned a secondary assist on the play, and Kris Letang who dished it to a streaking Malkin. It wasn't the first or only breakaway of the game, but it was unfortunately the only one the Penguins would capitalize on.
Fleury is hardly known as one of the best stickhandling goaltenders in the league, but the ice conditions only further magnified this element of his game. On two separate occasions Fleury mishandled puck, one of which nearly led to a goal on a flubbed wraparound attempt by Jason Chimera, the other actually led to a goal from the stick of Eric Fehr. If anything, Varlamov took the right approach to the game in letting his defense chase after the loose pucks in his own end. Fleury seemed committed to taking his chances, even if the odds (and puddles) were not in his favor.
Fehr's goal, combined with Mike Knuble's power play goal earlier in the period, put the Caps in the driver's seat for the rest of the game. It was up to the Penguins to play a game of catch up. Despite a valiant power-play attempt in the third period, the opportunities were kept to a minimum. Varlamov stopped all but one of Pittsburgh's 33 shots while Fleury allowed three goals on 32.
One highlight from the game that the Pens can take with them moving forward is the return of Jordan Staal. While he failed to register a point in just over 14 and a half minutes of ice time, he was showing some good presence out there buzzing around the net and didn't withhold from the physical aspect one bit. His presence on the penalty kill unit was obvious early on, and he wasn't on the ice for the Capitals' power-play goal either, which is also an encouraging sign.
Despite NBC's effort to increasingly remind us that the ice conditions were not a wash as the game went on, the shot total would say otherwise. In the first period, the two teams combined for a game-high 28 shots. In the second, 24. And finally in the third, when both teams skated through puddles and slush in addition to switching sides 10 minutes in, the Caps and Pens combined for just 13 shots.
In a perfect world this game would've been postponed until tomorrow, making it at least a bit more exciting and up-tempo than the display we witnessed tonight. Nevertheless, both teams battled through the same ice, same bounces and same downpour and the Capitals came out on top. Say what you will, but they still walk away with the win in the end.
Only two more regular season meetings exist between the Pens and Caps, with the next going down February 6th in D.C. While it may seem one of the four meetings was wasted in this outdoor event, there is still a "see you in the playoffs" vibe surrounding every game between the two.
Thankfully, that promising matchup will be indoors, no matter the conditions.