Penguins Notebook: NHL tinkers with Winter Classic format

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Although there is nothing too ominous in the weather forecast Tuesday for the Winter Classic, the NHL yesterday announced contingency plans in case the outdoor game between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres has to be postponed.

The makeup date would be 7 p.m. Wednesday, still at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium. Fans are encouraged to retain their tickets until the end of the game in case of such a move. The game will be televised Tuesday afternoon on NBC. A league spokesman said it would be nationally televised if it has to be played Wednesday, but declined to say whether it would remain on NBC or switch to another outlet.

Because there is a chance for significant wind Tuesday, the league also announced game modifications to prevent one team from having an advantage.

Midway through the third period, the teams will switch ends. That means each team will spend 30 minutes defending each goal. If there is a need for overtime, it will be stopped at the halfway point, 2:30, for teams to switch ends.

If there is a shootout, each goaltender will choose which net he wants to defend for the duration of the shootout, meaning both teams could shoot in the same direction.

The NHL also could change the length of intermissions and in-period timeouts if weather or ice conditions warrant, to be determined by game officials and/or league commissioner Gary Bettman.

Temperatures, recently forecast to be in the 30s, now are expected to be in the 20s.

Few Classic thoughts -- yet

As things are ramping up in Buffalo for the Winter Classic, the Penguins are just starting to give it more than a passing thought. It's not that they don't care for the idea of returning to hockey's roots and being part of the first NHL regular-season game played out in the elements in the United States. It's just that they have been a little busy with other games.

"We're thinking about it a little bit, but our focus is not [on that game]," coach Michel Therrien said yesterday before the Penguins played Buffalo in the first, much less hyped, half of the home-and-home set.

The NHL has been heavily promoting the soldout game. Although the Penguins have been asked about it some, the game has not been a major topic among players.

"We're just focused on the game we're playing," forward Jordan Staal said. "When the day comes, it will be a different experience. We are excited for it. It should be a lot of fun.

"I'm sure once we get to Buffalo, there will be a little extra hype."

Or a lot.

"It's probably easier for us not being there," defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "It's probably more of a distraction for them in that city."

No Thibault

The setting seemed perfect for Jocelyn Thibault to start in goal for the Sabres last night.

Buffalo had played the night before, losing in a shootout to New Jersey; Thibault is familiar with Mellon Arena and the Penguins, having played here the previous two seasons, and he had not played in weeks.

Still, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff came back with Ryan Miller.

"Obviously, I was hoping to get a chance to play, but my job is to answer the bell when I get a chance to play," said Thibault, who signed with the Sabres this past summer.

Thibault (2-2) has played just 203 minutes in four games this season. Most recently, he started in Los Angeles Dec. 6 but was pulled after giving up four goals on 14 shots in the first period.

"I knew I wasn't going to play a lot with Ryan here," Thibault said. "He's been one of the best goalies in the league for a couple years now. I thought I'd play a little more, but nobody promised me a number of games when I got here."

Things likely would be different if the Penguins had opted to re-sign Thibault instead of Dany Sabourin to back up Marc-Andre Fleury, out with a high ankle sprain.

Slap shots

Penguins winger Ryan Malone returned to the lineup after missing five games because of a leg infection. He replaced winger Petr Sykora, who was ill. The Penguins had no healthy scratches.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721.


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