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Hope everyone’s holidays were filled with food, family, and friends!
Now that both hockey and myself are off the Christmas Break, big events are happening all around. Martin Brodeur broke yet another record with his 104th shutout, surpassing that of Terry Sawchuck, and in Atlanta, negotiations for star winger Iyla Kovalchuck is again feeding the rumor mill.
Well, let’s get down to business—the Holiday Pucking Awesome Hat Trick, or the top three storylines I will be watching this week.
On Friday comes the spectacular that has become a fixture with ringing in the New Year: the Winter Classic. Not that I have to break down the opponents, but it will match up the Philadelphia Flyers with the Boston Bruins and be played at the historic Fenway Park.
I have already made my opinion known that I would prefer to have this television success in a bigger NFL/College Football venue, but I digress.
So, as the 168th regular-season meeting between these franchises is upon us, and Gary Bettman smiles down upon Fenway Park, we have to applaud the NHL for this forward-thinking event so far it has been a television success. Last year’s 2.5 rating was the highest rated NHL regular-season game in 13 years.
All hockey fans grew up playing outside, and it is a pleasure to see these professional athletes act like kids again.
U.S. Olympic Dreams
At the conclusion of the Winter Classic, the 23-man U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey team will be announced. So as GM Don Waddell and Head Coach Rom Wilson stew over the final decisions, it will be interesting to see what direction they turn.
Most experts are predicting a movement towards youth on this squad, but with the uncertainty of NHL players playing in the 2014 Winter Olympics, don’t be surprised to see some of the veterans collect some valuable spots.
I am not going to sit here and predict the full roster, but I will give my one surprise inclusion and my one surprise exclusion. I predict that defenseman Andy Greene of the New Jersey Devils will make it.
The 27-year old undrafted free agent at the Christmas Break tied at the top of American defenseman in scoring (21 points). What a story to beat out other first round picks for the spot. I see Greene playing the type of puck movement and limited turnovers that Ron Wilson wants from his defensemen.
The one surprising omission that I predict is Rangers forward Chris Drury. The Trumbull, CT native, once a fixture as a leader of the American hockey players, has struggled since given a monster contract to play on Broadway, and has seen younger players leap frog him on the depth chart.
Game of the Week
The easy pick would be the most-watched game this week, but I already wrote enough about the Winter Classic in this Hat Trick, so I move my attention to arguably the best Western Conference team facing off against arguably the best Eastern Conference team: the Washington Capitals vs. the San Jose Sharks.
Last time they faced off in October, the Capitals' top line was too much for the Sharks, in a 4-1 victory. Alex Ovechkin had two goals and Alexander Semin added another. These two teams are near the top of the league in goals, and San Jose has been hard to beat in regulation at home (9-2-5), so expect some fireworks this game.
This matchup also shows how the league made the right decision to allow more inter-conference games, to give both teams a measuring stick on how they look against the other conferences' elite teams.