PITTSBURGH - With the Winter Classic feeling more like the Spring Classic here in the Steel City, officials are still optimistic the game will be played as scheduled on Saturday afternoon.
But with a weather forecast expected to hit 11 Celsius for Saturday’s 1 p.m. puck drop, that remains in question.
An alumni game between former Penguins and Washington Capitals was played here Friday morning followed by the current Penguins’ team practice. Temperature was 8 Celsius when Sidney Crosby and the rest of his Pens took to the ice.
“The ice was great,” said former Penguins star Mario Lemieux, before explaining how it wasn’t exactly that.
“A couple of times in the neutral zone there was a puddle and they came out to fix it. The ice was pretty good. I was surprised.”
Pretty good might be fine for a bunch of “oldtimers” going three-quarter speed, but for the high-flying Penguins and Capitals and the millionaires attempting to play a regular-season game, a slushy surface could pose serious problems.
The NHL has said it intends to play the game as planned on Saturday and has a contingency plan in place for an 8 p.m. start should it be too balmy in the afternoon. The other concern is early morning rain in the forecast though that is expected to ease by the afternoon. Postponing the contest until Sunday doesn’t look like a great option either because the weather is supposed to be even warmer.
“It doesn’t look good, but that can chance,” Lemieux said. “It would be a shame not to have the game go this weekend with all the excitement. The weather has been perfect ... until tomorrow.”
For months now, the NHL has built the game up as a showcase between two of the NHL’s top teams and two of its brightest stars - Crosby and Caps sniper, Alex Ovechkin.
Commenting from a position of bias as a Penguins owner, Lemieux said Crosby’s play this year surpasses anything No. 66 did in his heyday with the Penguins.
“What he has done this year is pretty hard to do in this day and age,” Lemieux said of Crosby. “You’ve got goalies and defenceman that can skate and defensive schemes aren’t like they were 20 years ago.
“It’s pretty impressive. With his work ethic, it’s why he’s the best in the world.”