Well, the fifth Winter Classic came to pass. By my estimation, it was the second consecutive WC in which a large portion of the audience wasn’t nursing a New Year’s hangover. This time around, it was because the event happened on Jan. 2; last year’s version was more headache-friendly due to the primetime start. (If you were still hung over during the Caps-Pens WC, then you had a really good time.)
It’s a good thing most of us were clear-eyed this year because the 2012 Winter Classic has a legitimate argument for being the best start-to-finish game yet. Sure, there were a couple rough spots in the ice, but for the most part, the two teams were on steady footing. There was no need to manufacture a rivalry as the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are division rivals with plenty to play for, so it was arguably the most physical of any of the Classic contests. Best of all, the game had some lower-cased classic moments, including:
- Claude Giroux’s beautiful backhand goal and general brilliance getting a little extra mainstream attention.
- Jaromir Jagr splitting the Rangers defense, although that moment is tinged with sadness since he barely got back on the ice after aggravating a calf injury that he apparently suffered during last Thursday’s dramatic game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He said he doesn’t expect to be out very long as the injury is considered day-to-day.
- Mike Rupp’s two goals were mind-blowing enough, but his mock Jagr-style “Mile High” salute was one of those inspired taunts that qualify as either a great example of improvisation or a brilliant scheme of mockery.
- All the heavy hitting was great theater, especially since it doesn’t seem like an injury resulted from any of them.
- Finally, there was a star-confirming performance by Henrik Lundqvist. He kept the Rangers in the game when the Flyers carried the play for most of the first period. The iconic moment came with a little under 20 seconds left, however, when Danny Briere received a controversial penalty shot but couldn’t beat Lundqvist. That save preserved a 3-2 win that the Rangers earned after falling behind 2-0.
Now, as far as fantasy is concerned, there were some important considerations beyond Jagr’s troubling but likely not disastrous injury.
In perhaps the biggest bit of unexpected good news, Marc Staal returned to the Rangers lineup in his first game of the 2011-12 season (much like Jordan Staal made his Penguins 2010-11 debut in last year’s Winter Classic). Marc Staal only played a little less 13 minutes, so it’s not like when he played a bit less than 26 minutes of ice time like he averaged last season. For now, the return of Staal is probably more good indirect news for Henrik Lundqvist than relevant information for adding a blueliner.
Brayden Schenn scored his first career NHL goal on the biggest stage beyond a playoff game. His basic reaction was “finally.” Perhaps getting that monkey off his back might help him, but he might not be at the point in his young career where he’s really worth adding just yet.
The Edmonton Oilers broke their road struggles against the outstanding Chicago Blackhawks, which would normally be a hugely spirit-lifting event. Unfortunately, it seems like much of the Oilers’ successes have come with sad caveats lately.
In the case of Monday’s game, injuries meant that the Oilers might have really “lost.” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left the contest after the first period with what is rumored to be a shoulder injury while Tom Gilbert fell victim to Dan Carcillo’s tomfoolery as the Blackhawks irritant caught him with a dirty hit from behind. It would be surprising if either player manages to get in the lineup for tonight’s game, but then again, these are hockey players.
Cody Hodgson has been pretty hot lately, with six points in his last seven games. Overall, he has 20 on the season … On the same day that I called for the Colorado Avalanche to turn to J.S. Giguere, Semyon Varlamov went out and stop 31 out of 32 shots to win a nail-biter against the Los Angeles Kings, who seemed primed to win a 1-0 shutout before the Avs finally broke through … It might not always (or usually be) pretty, but Craig Anderson keeps collecting wins for the surprisingly effective Ottawa Senators.
Raffi Torres received a measly two-game suspension on his third questionable hit in a very brief period of time. I’d say the chances of Torres learning from his mistakes are slim-to-none, especially if he’s getting such a flimsy punishment. On the bright side, it has little-to-no effect on fantasy owners … Brad Boyes and Sheldon Souray are day-to-day with ankle injuries … Steve Montador is day-to-day with an upper-body injury … Slava Voynov is suffering from an undisclosed ailment … Anton Volchenkov continues to struggle with a leg injury … Mike Smith is now day-to-day with a groin injury … Mike Green is “pretty close” to returning to the Capitals lineup, but it remains to be seen if that means that he’ll play today, Saturday, next Monday or even further in the future. (Click here for the full injury list.)