It’s not often that you can say in sports that a meeting between two teams is the most significant event in their rivalry in 99 years, but that happens to be the case with the 2014 Heritage Classic game featuring the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks.
When you go back that far in history, you’re talking pre-NHL days. In this case, we’re referring to the 1915 Stanley Cup Finals between the Pacific Coast Hockey Association champion Vancouver Millionaires and the National Hockey Association champion Ottawa Senators. The Millionaires swept the best-of-five series in three games, with a combined score of 26-8. We can only hope this year’s Heritage Classic will be more competitive.
While hockey fans will be tuning in for the novelty of watching world-class hockey players performing outdoors, the Senators (12th in the Eastern Conference) and Canucks (tied for eighth in the Western Conference) are both fighting to get back in the playoff picture. Vancouver is tied with Dallas and Winnipeg for the final playoff seed in the West, but they are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games so they must hope that the biggest crowd to ever watch them play — over 50,000 are expected to attend this year’s Heritage Classic at B.C. Place — will inspire them to snap out of their funk.
You can tune in to the Heritage Classic at 4:00 pm Eastern on CBC in Canada or on NBC Sports Network in the U.S. While you’re watching, join Adam Proteau on The Hockey News’ Twitter account for our #THNLive coverage of the game, presented by Honda. You could win a Honda prize pack valued at $600, including an official Team Canada Olympic hockey jersey and a $100 gas card.
The last leg of the NHL Stadium Series takes place this weekend in Chicago. Sunday’s Ottawa-Vancouver game in B.C. Place falls under the Heritage Classic banner, but still, Saturday’s Pittsburgh-Chicago game at Soldier Field could be the final outdoor game this year (West Coast weather permitting).
Goalies have kind of made the outdoor games their playground to show off some creative style. Henrik Lundqvist wore pinstriped pads, while Evgeni Nabokov went with the Jose Theodore look by sporting a toque on his helmet at Yankee Stadium. Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier chose the toque as well, but added an old-school look to his pads. It’s what the goalies do for these events. Read more
NHL outdoor hockey is here to stay. Before the Rangers-Islanders game at Yankee Stadium, I broke down the data to see if there was anything advanced stats could tell us about how playing outdoors has affected the games. Although we only have nine games to work with (the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton was played before the RTSS era), there have been some noticeable effects on the way those games have been played. I’m going to focus on shooting, because that seems to be a place where we can see a discernable difference between indoor and outdoor.
Shooting percentages at even strength have been dramatically reduced on outdoor ice. The average even strength shooting percentage indoors since 2007 has been 8.2 percent, while the nine outdoor games played over the same time period has been 6.8 percent. To give you an idea of how drastic a difference this is, the worst shooting team in the league since 2007 has been the New Jersey Devils: they have an even strength shooting percentage of 7.2 percent. Teams playing outdoors have had worse shooting success than any team in the NHL playing indoors.
An obvious place to start when trying to figure out the reason for this drop is the condition of the ice. There will be more snow on the ground when playing outdoors. This can cause a larger amount of resistance on the stick when attempting a shot. But teams also seem to be intentionally changing their shooting patterns, too. The average shot attempt in a normal NHL game comes from 36.3 feet out. Average shot attempts in outdoor games have come from 38.8 feet from the net. Two and a half feet may not sound like much, but we know the chance of scoring is reduced the farther from the net you shoot. And of course, the farther out you shoot, the more prone you are to miss the net or have your shot blocked. But the data from outdoor games tells us this hasn’t been the case.
In fact, although outdoor shots have come from farther out than they usually do in NHL play, the percentage of shots that are blocked is 4.03 percent lower. Tip-in shot prevalence is also reduced by 2 percent outdoors, suggesting forwards are less willing to put themselves in the line of fire outside. Hockey players are tough, but they seem to get less tough in the cold.
Outdoors, teams seem to be taking chances from farther out and they’ve paid for this with lower shooting percentages. Goaltenders, rather surprisingly, have had an easier time outdoors than in normal NHL play. With less physicality and fewer bodies in front of the net, teams playing outdoors might benefit from working harder to get the puck in better scoring locations before they shoot.
Coaches have tried to test the goaltenders more on outdoor ice, but they haven’t gotten much out of it.
From an entertainment standpoint, the New York Rangers’ 2-1 win Wednesday over the New York Islanders was the least exciting outdoor game of the NHL’s ambitious 2014 Stadium Series. And although the Rangers were victorious playing at baseball’s Yankee Stadium for the second time in four days, their defeat of the Islanders proved only that the Stanley Cup is unlikely to be won by a New York state team this season – and that outdoor hockey doesn’t make bad hockey more fun to watch.
This was not Saturday’s end-to-end, offense-filled spectacle between the Blueshirts and New Jersey Devils that ended with the Rangers winning 7-3. The eventual shot total (the Rangers finished with 34, the Isles with 31) Wednesday would tempt you to think the night was more thrilling than it actually was: the two teams combined for exactly two scoring chances (both by the Rangers) in the first 14 minutes of the game, and two-thirds of the evening’s scoring came in a 40-second span at the end of the opening frame. Even a late third period push by Isles superstar John Tavares couldn’t boost the thrill factor. Forget about the ice conditions – this felt more like a dreary, mid-season NHL game between two teams that realize their deficiencies and employ a tentative game to make up for them.
Sunday’s Yankee Stadium outdoor hockey game was set to a much different background than the NHL outdoor game from the night before. There were no palm trees or beach volleyball courts, but the usual cool, snowy weather provided another majestic backdrop.
The Stadium Series may lead to criticism of producing too much of a good thing, but each new field has its own standout characteristic or two.
Sunday’s game between the Rangers and Devils stood out for the amount of goals that were scored. Martin Brodeur was not at is best, letting in six goals on 21 shots and being pulled after two periods. Mats Zuccarello was New York’s leader with two goals in the second period that tied the game, then took the lead. The Rangers never looked back and romped the Devils 7-3 after trailing by two in the first period. Read more
An innocuous Tweet the other day about the uptick of ticket sales in Los Angeles for the outdoor game prompted a minor backlash.
“And they hope to have ice, or something like it?”
“Have fun skating in soup.”
“I can’t wait until this disaster is over and done with.”
It is indeed the No. 1 question on people’s minds in regards to the game between the Kings and Ducks Jan. 25 at Dodger Stadium. How will the ice stay frozen and playable?
What will an outdoor NHL game in California look like?
Aside from the pools of melting ice, of course. (I kid, I kid)
Well, it’ll look something like this architectural rendering released by the NHL today. In two words: very nice. Read more
Interested in seeing yourself shivering in the Big House stands for the New Year’s Day Winter Classic?
If you were there, check out this panoramas website and identify yourself. Thousands of others have already done that and you can see they’ve tagged themselves. The panoramic image is a 26 billion pixel zoomable shot that includes almost all of the 105,000-plus faces that attended the game in Ann Arbor, Mich.
I was fortunate enough to attend the game with my boss and our spouses. It was a terrific couple of days. Editor-in-chief Jason Kay came over to my desk in earnest this morning asking me if I had any luck spotting us on the zoomable image. Like JK, I spent a few minutes honing in on section 26, row 72, seats 22 through 25.