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The Washington Capitals travel to Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon for this weekend's Fourth Annual NHL Winter Classic. Before heading up, the Caps had a closed practice outdoors at the Chevy Chase Club rink to prepare for skating outside on Wednesday afternoon.
Most of the Caps have only played outside when they were very young and by the looks on many faces, they were transported back in time while out on the ice. Mike Knuble had a big grin on his face for most of practice. Defenseman Karl Alzner said, ""It's a lot of fun. We wish the whole season was played outdoors."
Jason Chimera mentioned playing outdoors with buddies on weekends that would start in the early morning, then have lunch at the rink and continue to play hockey until dark. Chimera is from Edmondton, Canada where "there is an outdoor rink in every community" he said. Chimmy is the only current Capitals player that has played outside professionally. He played for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2003 Heritage Classic.
The Caps usually practice in the morning around 10:30 or 11 a.m., however, practiced at 1 p.m. on Wednesday because that is the same time of the Winter Classic on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Playing outside in the afternoon also meant dealing with the bright sunshine and glare off the ice. Many players experimented with eye black. Some got creative like John Carlson and Matt Hendricks who were sporting a warrior type design on their cheeks.
Alex Ovechkin was the one that stood out. Not only did he put the eye block under his eyes, but continued over the bridge of his nose to make one long straight line. The eye black ring around the mouth was the attention getter. There are a few pictures below because words just can't describe it. Ovi told the media that he just wanted to have fun and it was a joke. The Great Eight also made it clear that while playing outside was fun, "its practice" with a seriousness in his voice.
The wind in Pittsburgh could have an impact on the game so Coach Boudreau ran the players through sprints at the end of practice to experience difference between indoor and outdoor sprints. "I wanted to skate them a little bit to see if the wind affects" them, Boudreau said. "It's amazing, going one way against even a two mile per hour wind is a little bit different."
Overall, practice went well and Caps are very excited about the big game. Boudreau said that Tom Poti, Mathieu Perrault and Marcus Johansson will all be ready to play.
Caps practice at 10:30 a.m. at Kettler Capitals Iceplex (open to public) on Thursday before flying to Pittsburgh.
Enjoy the photos. See you in Pittsburgh!
Caps video of practice.
The Caps faced the Habs on Tuesday night for the first time since the devastating loss in game seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the spring 2010.
Many of the Caps took this game to heart. "We've had these guys marked on our calendar for a while" said Mike Green after the win. "They [Canadiens] broke our hearts last summer and we all had to live it with it through two to three months and we don't forget that."
This was just one of eighty-two regulation games for the season, however, one Caps player got an opportunity for redemption and played like it was the playoffs. Semyon Varlamov was the goaltender in game seven losing by one goal and on Tuesday night, completely shut down the Habs. It appears as though Varly may have earned a start at the Winter Classic. It should be noted that Jaroslav Halak is now playing for the St. Louis Blues and Varly beat Halak earlier in December.
Defense was key to the Caps win. It was no coincidence that Jeff Schultz returned to the ice the same night that the Caps get a shutout. Schultz broke his finger on December 6 and has been working very hard to get back on the ice. He doesn't want to miss the Winter Classic and his defensive skills were greatly missed. Welcome back Mr. Nasty. “We missed him. He’s so consistent. He hasn’t played in however many games and he comes back and he’s solid just like he always is" said teammate Mike Green. "You have to admire that.”
Kudos to all of the recent call-ups from Hershey. Jay Beagle played in his seventh game since being recalled from Hershey. "There's a guy who is making a great case to stay here." Coach Boudreau continued, "It's his fourth year professionally (his first in the NHL), and his work ethic is second to none."
Beagle scored his second goal of the season and the first of the night in the first period. “I throw a lot of backhand, but I don’t think shelf like that." Beagle said of his "Ovechkin-esque" goal. "I knew that [Carey] Price was a big goalie and I just wanted to put it on net and try to get it up." "I’m trying to [make an impact in the NHL]. I’m working hard. When you work hard, good things are going to happen. It’s fun playing with Chimmer [Jason Chimera] and Fehrsie [Eric Fehr]. They make it easy."
Caps recalled Keith Aucoin from Hershey to take Marcus Johansson's spot. After the game, Andrew Gordon tweeted that he was heading back to AHL. He has played well for the Caps and will hopefully get callled up again soon.
It should be mentioned that the Caps dominated in face-off 36 to16. Nicklas Backstrom may not be scoring goals, however, he won 10 out of 12 of his face-offs and David Steckel went 15-for-22.
The win gives the Caps 49 points (22-12-5) through 39 games to take over first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference behind Pittsburgh. "We played a solid game," Green said, "We played our system to a tee and when we do that, we're usually sucessful no matter who we play."
"It was more important for us to protect the lead and not be too aggressive and play a solid game. And we did that tonight," said Mike Green.
It was a solid effort for the Caps and they should be ready for the weekend in Pittsburgh. Mike Green spoke about the momentum building for this weekend's Winter Classic, "Yep, yep, but we can't get too high now, we have to feel like we have over the last week where we keep building and building and building."
When Coach Boudreau was questioned about Winter Classic roster decisions, he said, "There's a lot of guys trying to make their case and I am trying to not think about playing somebody just because he is who he is. I am just going to put the best lineup that there is to win that night." Is Bruce excited about the Winter Classic? "I just want to get it over with and I hope it doesn't rain."
THE GOOD: Jay Beagle. Congrats on his first hard hat!
THE BAD: Habs' P.K. Subban. He tried very hard to get into a fight, however, the Caps didn't bite. He was after Chimera and Hendricks most of the night.
THE UGLY: Power Play. 0-for-7. Ouch.
THE STATS: Jay Beagle (2) from Eric Fehr (8); Matt Hendricks (7) at 16:20 of 1st. Mike Green (7) from Nicklas Backstrom (25) at 19:22 of 1st. Alex Ovechkin (14) empty net from Karl Alzner (4) at 19:28 of 3nd.
NEXT GAME: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 1:00 pm vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA for the Fourth Annual NHL Winter Classic.
CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS
2. Jay Beagle. Scored his second goal of season with "Ovi-esque" style and earned first hard hat.
1. Semyon Varlamov. Shutout with 25 saves.