Caps Overcome Rain, Penguins in Winter Classic


In a Winter Classic between the NHL’s top two greatest players, neither had a hand in the game that unfolded before the 68,111 people at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field or the national audience viewing on NBC. The Capitals, who grabbed two points in a tight Eastern Conference race with a 3-1 win, saw Eric Fehr and Semyon Varlamov show up as the heroes for the evening.

Despite the uncooperative weather, the Caps managed to even the score from the last time the two teams met. The game, originally scheduled to start at 1 pm, had been moved to 8 pm due to a rainy cold front that rolled through the area. As the game unfolded, light rain fell in spots, making the ice less than optimal but still playable; it didn’t hinder either team from plowing full force into the other.

Bottom line, however, was that no one left the game last night unsatisfied. The Winter Classic, much hyped over the last month, lived up to its billing for fans, coaches, and players of both teams. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “I can’t imagine football players play every game like this. It’s unbelievable. It’s the kind of thing you want to do all the time, go out and play like this.”


Penguins winger Evgeni Malkin broke the scoreless tie 2:13 into the second period with a right side breakaway, wristing a blistering shot through Varlamov’s five-hole. Less than five minutes later, Mike Knuble made a Capitals power play count to put the Caps on the giant scoreboard. Eric Fehr gave the Caps the lead for good after catching Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury out of position. Fehr followed up in the third to cement the Caps’ win as Varlamov survived a flurry of shots in the waning minutes of the game.

Varlamov got the game’s first star; Fehr the second.

The rivalry between the two teams was evident from start to finish – not that any fan of these two franchises would expect anything less. Nearly everyone was out of their seat when John Erskine and Mike Rupp dropped the gloves in the second period; both connected some big punches before being pulled apart. Both Rupp and Ovechkin had goals waved off as well due to incidental contact with the goalies, decisions by the referees that proved highly unpopular with the crowd.

The tension was palpable from both benches. Even in the last few seconds of the game, both teams were raring to drop the gloves on each other. “There was no less bite,” said Caps forward Jason Chimera. “I think we were supposed to shake hands at the end and they didn’t want to shake hands, but I don’t think we would have wanted to shake hands either if we lost. There was hitting, good goals, good saves. It was a fun night to be in hockey.”

It’s hard to judge either team on their play because the weather and circumstances forced both to alter their strategies a bit. With the ice a bit chippier than usual and the pooling water in the third, long passes and breakout plays were infrequent. Both the Pens and the Caps played a more conservative, short pass game, content to chip it into the zone as deep as they could and attempting to follow up in front of the net. The result was a much closer game in the zones and some strong battles below the circles. Point shots were more prone to being uncontrolled and wild. Short, close passes were needed to create opportunities and that made the teamwork inherent on both sides a lot more important.

The combined 65 shots on goal showed that both teams were capable of adjusting their game to the elements.

“The players, you saw how they were playing,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “There were 60-some-odd shots on goal. The players were into it. I think playing in front of so many people had something to do with that.”

The rain proved to be little more than a nuisance and quite possibly a godsend for the league. With the 8 pm start, the Winter Classic got a shot at prime time coverage and more potential viewers than the standard afternoon slot could’ve provided. With the league continuing to struggle to showcase hockey, the game and its participants looked to be prime fare to draw more interest. But it was also a spectacle grand enough for those in attendance.

“It was more than just a game to everybody,” said Boudreau. “Don’t let anybody fool you. It was a game that we wanted to show people that had never played hockey or watched hockey how good it can be, how exciting it can be. The passion on the guys’ faces when they scored a goal was totally genuine. I thought it was a real good game for the growth of the game and I hope it does grow because of it.

“This is as close to the Stanley Cup as we’ve gotten and we’re not denying that it was more than just two points. It was a fabulous game.”

Thoughts from a more personal view on the 2011 Winter Classic tomorrow.

Having lived in the DC area for ten years, Ben still loves to wander the city with his wife, shooting lots of photos and exploring all the latest exhibits and galleries. A certified hockey fanatic, he spends some time debating the Washington Capitals club with friends – but everyone knows of his three decade love affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A professional writer, gamer, photographer, and Lego enthusiast, Ben remains captivated by DC and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

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13 thoughts on “Caps Overcome Rain, Penguins in Winter Classic

  1. It’s a good and legitimate question, Jay. Ted Leonsis said last night that he hopes to see it at FedEx field in the next 2-3 years. And Scott Burnside over at ESPN makes a great case for several “repeat” WC teams, which could conceivably include the Caps.

    I’m a little less optimistic. Pittsburgh’s a good venue, but the weather over this past weekend was very similar to DC and it’s not too hard to imagine that the same issues would arise for FedEx Field. Yet the NHL’s ice guru has said that they could play in up to 65 degree weather and still have good ice…not to mention the fact he’s honed the process down over the last 4 years.

    So…I don’t know. Probably for sure before 2015, especially if the Caps can finally win the Cup in the next 1-2 years. Beyond that…I couldn’t tell you.

  2. Ok, thanks.

    If you don’t mind another question, how do they determine what teams play in it each year?

  3. Rupp and Erskine were not seperated. Rupp clearly says “That’s enough, I’m done” – (paraphrased) and gives up.

  4. @Jay: Not sure exactly, but it’s some combination of weather averages, open-air stadium, capacity, and team marketability. Bettman usually makes a decision in June, but rumors start flying as early as March.

    @Russell: Couldn’t tell that from my seat angle; next thing we saw was the zebras step in. Later postgame interviews had them both laughing about the row, so…

    @Will: awesomely close, much to our surprise! The angle was tough, since we’re used to being up high and seeing the full rink except the near edge, so it took about 5 minutes to get adjusted to that angle.

  5. When Erskine punched Rupp, it caused Rupp’s contact to flip inside out. That’s why he asked Erskine to stop.

  6. Have you guys heard of the “Winter Classic curse?”

    Personally, I think sports curses are silly, but it is something to talk about. Let’s hope the Caps do make it to the Finals, and then burst the curse!


    Since the inception of the NHL’s Winter Classic outdoor game starting during the 2007-2008 NHL Season, the away team in each instance has gone on to the Stanley Cup Finals only to lose that series. The 2007-2008 Pittsburgh Penguins were the visiting team against the 2007-2008 Buffalo Sabres, only to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Final that year. The 2008-2009 Detroit Red Wings visited the 2008-2009 Chicago Blackhawks, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Final. The 2009-2010 Philadelphia Flyers visited the 2009-2010 Boston Bruins, only to go on to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Final.

  7. @ Jay – You’re assuming that the Caps will make it to the Stanley Cup in the first place. While it was definitely good to see the Caps get the win against the Pens, their overall play this year has generally been meh…

    A friend of mine posted (on Facebook) this comment from Ted Leonsis on the Winter Classic: “The highlight for me was two sections filled with Caps fans and Pens fans and they looked at each other and they started chanting, ‘Flyers suck.’ It’s like they bonded around something.”

  8. Any video of Leonsis saying he’d like to see it at FedEx Field?

    Baltimore has been mentioned as a possibility for the game for some reason. I’d go with Nationals Park myself.

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