2017 Stadium Series Brings Better Weather (and Hopefully a Better Outcome) Than 2011 Winter Classic for Penguins
This week leading up to tonight's Stadium Series game in Pittsburgh, which finally matches the Penguins and Flyers outdoors, the temperature averaged in the high 60s each day. On Friday, the high recorded in Pittsburgh was 78 degrees: not the most ideal weather for outdoor hockey. Temperatures were in the 70s when the Ducks and Kings met outside at Dodger Stadium in 2014, but not a place like Pittsburgh!
Luckily, a cold front has moved in today, and temperatures will be in the mid 30 by puck drop and will drop below freezing by the time the game ends.
Mother nature must be a fan of hockey (or perhaps this rivalry).
The weather and matchup are more ideal this time around in Pittsburgh. For the Penguins sake, misfortune doesn't greet them like it did back in the '11 Classic, when Sidney Crosby was hit by Dave Steckel and it began the long road back from a concussion for the Penguins captain.
I attended that game in 2011. My parents have had season tickets since the 2001-2002 season, and our seats at Heinz Field matched your location at the then-named Consol Energy Center.
My parents have seats in the lower level of the arena, second-to-last row of the section, where the Penguins shoot in the first and third periods.
At Heinz Field, that put our seats in section 128, just to the right of the tunnel where Steelers opponents exit and enter into their locker room.
When you put a hockey rink in the middle of a football field, your vantage point will be altered the lower you sit. It's the one time you prefer to be in the 500 level at Heinz Field.
Regardless, my dad and I were among the 65,000 plus in attendance to watch a game in rainy conditions that matched the Penguins and Capitals in a rivalry game before the two became division rivals two years later with realignment.
I won't make it to Heinz Field this time. I'm over 1,200 miles away and am in the midst of high school basketball playoff games. I've got the DVR ready, and I'll be home later tonight to watch this spectacle between two teams and fans who can't stand the site of each other. I might have to turn the notifications off on my phone and tablet, though.
If you're going: Have fun, stay warm and drink it in if you didn't make it in 2011.
Sadly, it appears that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury may have less than a month to live...as a
member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Based on the comments made by team General Manager Jim Rutherford, and the upcoming expansion draft with the Vegas Golden Knights, the team might make the decision to deal him before the NHL trade deadline March 1. Fleury has a no-movement clause, which makes him the goaltender the Penguins can hold onto when the Golden Knights start building their team. It would leave Matt Murray, who is ten years younger, at the mercy of the expansion draft.
As a fan, you felt like the writing was on the wall when Fleury unveiled a new mask for the Stadium Series game at Heinz Field, that featured teammates he has had over the last 13-plus years.
There's a part of me that wants to label this beautiful artwork on his mask "The Long Goodbye".
Whether it happens at the deadline or before the expansion draft, Fleury's time with the team seems to be near its end and the farewell seems underway as it continues to be business as usual for everyone in the locker room.
Fleury, 32, was at the mercy of two concussions during the 2015-16 season, and it was the younger, surprisingly hot hand of Murray, 22, who helped the Penguins get through the spring and win the Stanley Cup. Fleury was 35-17-6 in the games the 58 games he played. He appeared in one playoff game after being cleared, stopping 15 of 19 shots on goal in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final. After that, Murray started the rest of the way.
When the team realized they had two good goaltenders (a luxury in the game), they knew that eventually their two-goalie system would need to be addressed. No move came last summer, but with the deadline approaching, and the situation the team faces as the NHL welcomes in their 31st franchise, a decision needs to be made.
With the end approaching, you go back to the 2003 NHL Draft. Then-General Manager Craig Patrick had a rag-tag group after salaries were dumped, being marketed as the "X Generation". Fleury went first overall to the Penguins that year, and was one of five goalies to see action that season.
Fleury was between the pipes for the home opener on October 10 when the Penguins welcomed in the Los Angeles Kings.
His first game was a 3-0 loss in front of an optimistic sellout crowd at Mellon Arena. It didn't last long as the Penguins finished at the bottom of the league standings, playing in front of crowds that averaged about 11,000 a game. I was in section F18 for several of those games. Only two other games drew 16,000 plus fans. A January 24 game against the Colorado Avalanche (who had an amazing list of names on the roster that season) and the home regular season finale against the Washington Capitals April 4 (both were losses).
Fleury finished with a 4-14-2-2 record that season (when ties were still in the game) while jumping back-and-forth between the NHL and AHL.
Things got better as Patrick, followed by Ray Shero, began putting the pieces together and found themselves in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs after a 6-year absence.
The shining moment came in 2009 when this new era of Penguins won the franchises third Stanley Cup, in a heart-stopping finish against the Detroit Red Wings in the deciding Game 7, where Fleury made a diving save on Niklas Lidstrom after the Penguins lost a faceoff with 6.5 seconds left in their zone and gave the former Red Wings captain a juicy rebound.
When it comes to numbers, Fleury's 2006-07 (40-16-9) and 2011-12 seasons (42-17-4) have been his two best. Although both ended in first round playoff losses.
It would be easy to get sentimental about what could be the last weeks of Fleury as a Penguin, but this is life in any professional sports league. The Penguins have the best of both worlds with two good goalies on the depth chart, but the future (not rifts or locker room troubles) has finally brought the team to this point.
It's not known what Rutherford will do at the deadline, but there might be a need come March. If another team makes an offer and it involves Fleury, he might pull the trigger.
So maybe fans should take Marc-Andre's approach to the situation: enjoy each day and take a few selfies that will help you remember the good times