NHL Week in Review (December 28-January 3)

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The New Year is here and as has become tradition that means the Winter Classic rang in the new year. The Winter Classic started as a spectacle for the NHL that really never had any of those types of games. It is akin to Thanksgiving Day in the NFL as the NHL focuses on the big outdoor game that marks the start of a new year. The game is also strategic for the NHL as they host it just when most other big sports are winding down. The NFL is heading into the playoffs while NCAA football is nearing the end of the bowl season. For the NHL that means they are about to be one of two major sports leagues still active. So they take on the outdoor game and create a buzz around the NHL as they near the second half of their season. With the All-Star weekend and playoff push upcoming the NHL looks to create a conversation around the league and the Winter Classic is what they use. This year the annual outdoor game travelled to Washington as the Capitals took on the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Stadium. It was the first time that the city had hosted the game but it was not the first time for either of these teams playing outdoors. The Caps had played in one of the more memorable games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011 while the Blackhawks were the hosts of the second ever Winter Classic and participated in the Stadium Series last year. With a new stadium setting the background for what turned out to be one of the best outdoor games ever. Both teams went back and forth all game with the Caps getting out to an early lead and the Blackhawks climbing back to tie the game. After a questionable penalty to Jonathan Toews the Capitals scored the winning goal with only thirteen seconds left. To make the game even better it was Troy Brouwer who scored the winning goal. Not only was Brouwer a former Blackhawk but his father had flown in to see his son play as a Washington Capital for the first time. Brouwer’s father suffered a stroke in 2010 and since that time has not been able to see his son play as travel has been very difficult. It was good enough for Brouwer that his dad simply got to see him play but scoring the winning goal was the added bonus that made the day that much more special. It was another chapter in what is becoming a storied series. There has been snow, ice-cold temperatures, massive crowds, and legendary stadiums. Now Brouwer’s goal enters the many moments that have made the Winter Classic a great game. The problem for the NHL was that the ratings for the game were the worst in the history of the series on NBC. The Canadians market has rarely been a concern for the NHL and is not what is making news this time around as it is the often tough US market that once again is making news. The ratings were slightly lower than in 2012 when the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers faced off at Citizens Bank Park. For the NHL it is not good news as the uniqueness of the event may be wearing off. A lot of that may come back to last year as the strategy to have multiple outdoor games in the Stadium Series. With a Winter Classic in Michigan along with four other games may have done what many though it would, make people sick of the outdoor game. It is still entertaining and the crowds are great but on TV they are becoming less of a spectacle. Making the outdoor game more common is not going to help the Winter Classic develop into a premier event in the NHL calendar. There is one more outdoor game this year as the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks travel to Levi’s Stadium for the one Stadium Series game of the year. If that game does not do well on TV it may be time for the NHL to rethink who they invite to host the game and who participates. The big name teams in big stadiums seem to work, see Detroit vs. Toronto in the Big House, while teams with a smaller following like the Capitals may not be the biggest draws for TV. The NHL will watch their next outdoor game closely and see if there is anything that they can do to fix what could become a failed attempt to build buzz in the new year.

(Extra Thoughts on this week in hockey)

A New Owner Again
The Arizona Coyotes have rarely been in strong financial standing and amid the quietest NHL sale to date the ‘yotes were sold for the second time in two years bringing up the inevitable talk of a franchise moving

Roy to Edmonton
The Edmonton Oilers seem to be determined to remain in the hunt this year as they have been easily the most active team in the NHL trading with everyone including Nashville where they received Derek Roy to solve a long-standing centre problem

Lamoriello on the bench
The Devils went into the Christmas break with plenty of doubt after firing their head coach but coming into the league after the break it will be General Manager Lou Lamoriello who will step back behind the bench for the rest of the season


Key Scores:
Boston Bruins 5 – 2 Detroit Red Wings
– The Bruins have fallen into the bottom half of their division after a strong start to the season but they tried to climb back and were helped by a win against one of the top teams in the division

Vancouver Canucks 3 – 1 San Jose Sharks
– The Canucks continue to fight to stay among the top three teams in the division and they got another leg up in that fight as they beat the Sharks helping them move into a tie with the Sharks for third place in the division

Calgary Flames 4 – 3 Edmonton Oilers (OT)
– The Battle of Alberta finished the way that these two longtime rivals have been trending as the Flames got the win as the team that has been improving in the last few years while the Oilers dropped another as they continue to struggle

Washington Capitals 3 – 2 Chicago Blackhawks
– The Capitals’ owner begged to have the Winter Classic in his city and he finally got his wish as Nationals Park played host to the 2014 version of the annual game which turned out to be one of the best in the series as the Caps won thanks to a goal with 13 seconds left in the game

Next Week:
New York Islanders vs. Edmonton Oilers (Sunday January 4th; 9:30 pm ET)
– In what used to be a matchup of the two worst teams in the league the much improved Islanders are a look into what the future could be for the Oilers as they try to prov e they can still compete with the Isles

Buffalo Sabres vs. New Jersey Devils (Tuesday January 6th; 7:00 pm ET)
– They are often the forgotten teams in the New York area and both have proven why as they face off to get out of the basement of their respective divisions and start a run before it is too late to come back

Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (Wednesday January 7th; 7:00 pm ET)
– The Maple Leafs come home after being displaced by the World Juniors and they look for some more consistency with a home game against a Washington team that is beginning to turn things around for their season

New York Islanders vs. New Jersey Devils (Friday January 9th; 7:00 pm ET)
– The Islanders and Devils have a rivalry that is not talked about too much but they still don’t like each other as the Isles travel to New Jersey looking to remain among the best teams and the Devils trying to get there

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