Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
In this seventh year of the National Hockey League’s biggest outdoor affair, the Winter Classic has quickly taken over as a New Year’s Day tradition and it has benefited the NHL greatly.
The Chicago Blackhawks once again took part in this showcase game, travelling to our nation’s capital to face the Washington Capitals, marking the franchise’s third outdoor game overall its second Winter Classic, for Washington this was its first outdoor game since 2011.
This matchup was perfectly geared for a captive national audience, featuring established stars on both sides with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford for the Hawks and Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green for the Caps. As it would play out, the 3-2 Washington victory showcased the stars well and provided another example of the Winter Classic at its best.
The new year started off great for the home team as Eric Fehr netted home his 11th goal of the year off a wrist shot (7 minutes, 1 second) giving the Capitals an early 1-0 lead. The momentum continued for Washington when Alex Ovechkin scored his 18th goal of the year (11:58) as the Capitals took advantage of a slow Hawks squad and pushed its lead to 2-0.
The Hawks started to turn things around when Patrick Sharp delivered his seventh goal of the year on the power play at 13:36, cutting the Washington lead in half. While the Hawks managed a goal, the Capitals dominated the opening period with a 15 to 13 shots on goal advantage. The road team continued its comeback push in the second period, making good when Brandon Saad netted home his ninth goal of the year (3:15) to tie the game at 2-2.
Back to back penalties called on Washington (Tom Wilson – 9:18, John Carlson – 9:47) in the middle of the second period provided the Hawks had a golden opportunity to take the game over courtesy of a 5 on 3 power play but Chicago failed to take advantage.
After two periods the game remained tied and within reach of both teams but Hawks outplayed Washington clearly in the second 20 minutes, garnering a 13-7 shots on goal advantage. In the third period playoff type intensity added to the scenic proceedings with both team trading shots on goal as well as physical hits. The Hawks had another chance on the power play midway through the third to grab the lead but came up empty.
Things continued on a downward spiral when a questionable penalty was called on Jonathan Toews (18:47), followed by another call on Brandon Saad (19:47), giving Washington the advantage it would take to win the game. Unsung hero and ex-Hawk Troy Brouwer emerged at this time and scored the game winning goal (19:47), his 11th on the season, to send the Nationals Park crowd home happy.
In looking at the goalies, it was a rough day at the office for Chicago’s Corey Crawford.
After giving up two goals in the opening period, Crawford settled down and kept his team in the game but let his guard down just enough to be beaten late. Crawford stopped 32 shots while posting a save percentage of .914 while opponent Braden Holtby stood tall for the Capitals, especially in the third when the Hawks looked primed to turn the game around in their favor. Holtby posted a .943 save percentage while collecting 33 saves to preserve the win for Washington.
CHI — Patrick Sharp became the first player in NHL history to score a goal in back to back outdoor games.
CHI — Won faceoffs 42-36.
CHI — Johnny Oduya and David Runblad each blocked two shots.
WSH — Alex Ovechkin with 2 Points (1G,1A)
WSH — Mike Green with 2 assists
WSH — 15-8 Blocked Shots
WSH — 24-10 hits advantage
CHI — Giving up nine first period goals in their last four games including today.
CHI — Going 1-6 on the power play
Most Career Outdoor Games (including today):
Brooks Orpik (WAS) — 4
Brad Richards (CHI) — 4
Dan Carcillo (CHI) — 4
While there are only two outdoor games this season as opposed to last season’s full Stadium Series, today’s contest lived up to the hype with stars shining for both teams, playoff intensity play and late game heroics. It will be interesting to see the television ratings for this game because it has become clear that NBC and the League sees the Outdoor Classic as a source of regular season gold.
Coming off a 2014 playoff run with ratings higher than ever, the NHL wants and needs their big teams to draw for the casual fan to watch. After a whole six outdoor games within the past year, its fair to ask has the novelty of the games worn off? I say no, but with the New Year’s Day game acting as a permanent fixture, if you’re going to add additional outdoor games maybe just one or two during a given season will do instead of several.
Also, while promoting the big teams for the outdoor games, try to spread opponents around a little. For example, the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars to name a few. The NHL’s next outdoor game will take place in February in Santa Clara, Ca. at Levi’s Stadium where the Los Angeles Kings will take on the San Jose Sharks.
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