What should have been an obvious highlight on the Penguins' schedule turned into a significant turning point in the season. Outside of 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on rain-soaked ice at Heinz Field, the New Year's Day game also marked a point in Sidney Crosby's season that would set the spark behind endless debates and speculations.
Expectations are often high for Penguins fans, and with good reason. While many can't come right out and expect to see an 82-0 season (and if so, I'd like some of what they're having), the spectacle of an outdoor game on home ice/grass carries even more of a desire to see the black and gold pull out the win. Add in the rival Washington Capitals and you have the makings of an explosive setting.
Initially scheduled for early afternoon, the game was delayed until later at night due to rain sweeping through the region. Even as the stadium began to fill up with fans, there was good reason to question not only the safety of the players, but also the general ability to even play hockey on a surface covered in puddles of water.
Still, despite all of the strikes against the event before the puck had yet to drop, you couldn't deny the excitement surrounding the game. Nothing provided more a punctuation to the night than Evgeni Malkin's first goal, a breakaway chance that ended with a five-hole shot on Semyon Varlamov.
Unfortunately that would be the lone highlight of the night. David Steckel collided with Crosby late in the second and as they say, the rest was history. Although Sid did return to play in the third, the Pens fell 3-1 in regulation.
HBO's 24-7 series that surrounded the build toward the event and the subsequent fall following the finale was some of the best sports doc footage the NHL has seen. Complete access to each locker room provided an inside look at how players joke with one another, coaches handle the players and the utter look of defeat/victory on the faces of the respective teams.
Seeing as how the Penguins were fortunate enough to appear in the outdoor game twice over the span of four years, I don't foresee the league inviting the team back for another one anytime soon. This year it will be the Flyers and Rangers at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia facing off in the New Year's Day game.
As the season wore on and the hype surrounding Crosby's injury continued to build up speed, this game and the following one against the Lightning would stand out as lowlights on the schedule. The Penguins vehemently suggested the team would never put a player at risk of a concussion back on the ice. So if you believe that - and you probably should, considering how valued Crosby is to the team - then the only logical explanation would be Victor Hedman's boarding call.
That doesn't mean Sid didn't come up hurting from the Winter Classic, but I still personally feel that the Jan 1 meeting was the turning point in the season not only for Crosby but also for the Pens. The game against the Lightning was just the one point that pushed it over completely.
The Winter Classic revisited, but preferably forgotten.