Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury wears a GoPro camera on his Steelers-influenced helmet during practice Friday as he prepares for his team's outdoor game against the Blackhawks in Chicago.
Penguins players practice Friday for their team's outdoor game against the Blackhawks at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Forward Sidney Crosby and the Penguins played in the 2008 Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
A Penguins fan waves his Terrible Towel during the introductions at the Winter Classic at Heinz Field in 2011.
Penguins defenseman Simon Despres practices Friday for his team's outdoor game against the Blackhawks at Soldier Field in Chicago.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CHICAGO — It will, by all accounts, be a bit chilly here tonight.
Might snow a bit, too.
And there could be a gentle breeze wafting in occasionally from nearby Lake Michigan.
You know, the kind that slices through overcoats like shards of glass blown out of a cannon.
All of which is to say, it will be a fairly standard-issue winter night in this city.
Nonetheless, the two conditions that most trouble the Penguins when playing outdoors – rain and bright sunshine – won’t be factors when they face the Chicago Blackhawks at Solder Field tonight at 8:08.
Sunshine is a non-issue for obvious reasons — the opening faceoff will be about an hour and a half after sunset — and with temperatures expected to be around 20 at game time, there’s not much danger of precipitation coming in the form of raindrops.
Which particularly pleases the Penguins, who were part of the only rain-delayed outdoors game in NHL history.
The players who were involved in that 3-1 Washington victory Jan. 1, 2011 at Heinz Field — a game pushed back from afternoon to night because of monsoon-like rainfall — haven’t forgotten the futility of trying to play hockey in conditions more suited to a swim meet.
“It wasn’t bad, but then there started to be more rain in the third [period], so it was a little harder to see,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “The ice was slippery, wet.”
Asked his most vivid memory of the 2011 Winter Classic, right winger Craig Adams echoed Fleury’s observation — “The ice was soaking wet, and it was raining,” he said — but he also noted how wind, which almost was non-existent that night, could come into play this time.
Adams not only lived in Chicago while spending parts of two seasons with the Blackhawks — more than enough time to appreciate how it came by its “Windy City” nickname — but also was on the team that lost against Detroit in the 2010 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.
“It was windy,” he said. “If there was a slow puck, say a puck is rolling on its edge, it was blowing around pretty good. It does make a difference.”
Although players have a variety of opinions on what would constitute ideal conditions, all agree they are hoping for minimal wind, both for the quality of play and their comfort.
“It’s not the temperature that bothers you,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “It’s once the wind gets going.”
He said the optimal temperature would “30 to 35 degrees,” while Fleury said he can accept anything that’s “not crazy cold, because then your hands just freeze in your gloves.”
The game tonight will be the Penguins’ third outdoors. In addition to the one at Heinz Field, they played in the inaugural Winter Classic Jan. 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, beating the Sabres in a shootout.
While there clearly are differences between games played indoors and outside, players say the lighting in football stadiums is less of an issue than some might expect.
Scuderi played in the Buffalo game, which was held in the afternoon but still had artificial lighting.
“I thought it was bright enough where we didn’t need [(the stadium lights], but it definitely helped,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of reflection off the ice.”
Fleury said shadows didn’t cause any difficulty at Heinz Field, but pointed out that it’s possible to lose a puck in the lights “sometimes, when there’s a high dump.”
He was quick to add, however, that “football guys do it. They have to pick up the ball on passes.”
Like strong wind, snow that accumulates on the ice can affect passes and shots, and guys who play skill-based games can have problems when those conditions arise.
“If there’s a lot of snow or a lot of wind, it’s not going to be as pretty to watch,” Adams said.
Some players likely will have to alter the finesse aspect of their games simply because they’re not indoors.
“Maybe not me,” Scuderi said. “Definitely, other guys. “There are just things you’re not able to do [outdoors]. The ice isn’t an NHL rink. It’s pretty bouncy. With all the shaving and ice cuts they can give it, it’s still not the same, so you really have to simplify. Really. A lot.”
Despite the negatives associated with playing outdoors, Penguins players seem genuinely enthused about having the opportunity to do it again.
“Certainly, you want to win the game — it’s part of the regular season — but you also have to take a step back and realize that it’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of,” Scuderi said. “And to enjoy the experience, as well.”
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