Penguins notebook: Playing in Chicago inside and out

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CHICAGO -- The Penguins played a preseason game Thursday night at United Center, but things will be vastly different the next time they visit the Blackhawks.

The Penguins will appear in the third outdoor game in franchise history March 1 when they face Chicago at Soldier Field.

"The Penguins are getting to be pretty used to this stuff," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told a news conference at the stadium hours before the preseason game.

The NHL and its fans will be getting even more used to these games in the elements, too.

In addition to the annual Winter Classic (Detroit-Toronto Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor) and what's becoming an annual outdoor game in Canada called the Heritage Classic (Ottawa at Vancouver March 2 in BC Place), there will be four games that will be part of the Stadium Series in the second half of the season.

In something of an experiment in terms of weather, Los Angeles and Anaheim will meet Jan. 25 at Dodger Stadium. At Yankee Stadium, the New York Rangers will face New Jersey Jan. 26 and the New York Islanders Jan. 29. The game at the NFL home of the Bears is the final leg of the stadium series.

"People like the games," NHL chief operating officer John Collins said of the decision to have more outdoor games. "The turning point was as you went to the games and saw how big and powerful they were to the marketplace. ... It makes hockey bigger and more relevant."

Collins said the NHL isn't concerned about oversaturation and that the league benefits from staging games at "iconic venues" that usually are home to NFL, Major League Baseball and major college football games.

Collins said it's no coincidence that the Penguins-Blackhawks outdoor game comes on the heels of the Sochi Olympics, where several players from those teams are expected to represent their countries.

One matchup that doesn't seem to be on the NHL's radar is a neutral-site game between the Penguins and the cross-state rival Philadelphia Flyers. There has been sentiment to stage such a game at Penn State's Beaver Stadium.

Collins, though, downplayed the thought of having outdoor games in something other than an NHL city, at least for now.

"At the end of the day, that would require one of the clubs being willing to give up a home game and play at a neutral site," he said. "We haven't broached that."

There are no qualms about Soldier Field.

At the news conference, Penguins general manager Ray Shero said, "It's an honor for the Pittsburgh Penguins to be invited to play in one of the most historic venues in America," and noted that they've had mixed results in previous outdoors appearances.

"We're 1-1," Shero said. "We're looking to get above .500."

The Penguins beat Buffalo, 2-1, in a shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the first Winter Classic Jan. 1, 2008, then lost to Washington, 3-1, in the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field.

Rare appearance

Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby played a rare game at United Center. Very rare.

"I haven't played in Chicago in, like, eight years," Crosby said before the game.

Almost.

He has played just one regular-season game at the venue, Jan. 13, 2006, his rookie season. He had an assist in a 4-1 loss against the Blackhawks.

The schedule has not brought the Penguins to Chicago very often, and Crosby has missed a few games here because of injury.

Even though the Blackhawks are a common preseason opponent for the Penguins, Crosby had not played a preseason game at United Center before Thursday.

He has only faced Chicago at home once, getting an assist in a 5-4 Penguins shootout win Feb. 14, 2007, at Mellon Arena.

In fact, Crosby has never played against Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in a regular-season game. Kane dressed Thursday night; Toews did not.

Tip-ins

Former Penguins winger Marian Hossa originally was scheduled to play for Chicago but was scratched because of what is believed to be a back injury. ... The Penguins have a day off today.

penguins

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com.


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