Much of the charm of the NHL's annual Winter Classic comes from the atmosphere of playing outdoors and rekindling memories of childhood romps on frozen ponds.
The league has been lucky until now, with Buffalo, Chicago and Boston providing appropriately cold and picturesque backgrounds. The only minor glitch occurred in 2008 in Buffalo, where frequent ice repairs became a disruption as the game wore on, but that wasn't a huge problem.
Unfortunately, the weather appears reluctant to cooperate for this season's outdoor game, between the Penguins and Washington Capitals Saturday at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.
Forecasts call for rain and temperatures in the 40s, which won't provide that retro, rosy-cheeked look. Mild temperatures are less a problem than rain, which could cause slick and hazardous conditions.
"We're going to continue to do everything humanly possible to play this game Saturday," Don Renzulli, the NHL's senior vice president for events, said during a conference call Monday. "We will wait as long as we need to."
Contingency plans call for a delay if conditions aren't ideal at the 10 a.m. Pacific Time start or a postponement until Sunday. The game can't be postponed beyond that because the field must be returned to the NFL Steelers. If Sunday is a no-go the game would be rescheduled as just another Penguins indoor game at the Consol Energy Center.
Snow over the weekend didn't hamper assembly of the portable rink on a platform atop the grass, and ice making began Sunday. Renzulli said banners, auxiliary seating and broadcast positions were put in place Monday and construction of an auxiliary rink was begun.
A game between alumni of the Penguins and Capitals, scheduled for Friday, should provide a test for Saturday's conditions. Renzulli noted that weather patterns have changed within the last day, reducing predicted temperatures from the 50s to the mid-40s, and could change again to become more favorable. The final call will be made by Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The NHL's website, http://www.nhl.com, has time-lapse videos of the main rink's construction and other logistical information.
The Devils made him do it
New Jersey Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello surprised no one by firing Coach John MacLean last week and bringing back Jacques Lemaire for a third term.
It didn't matter that MacLean was saddled with a team that's hampered by injuries, hamstrung by the overpaid and under-effective Ilya Kovalchuk and struggling while goaltender Martin Brodeur finds his form. Someone had to pay and it was MacLean, who was considered a players' coach and maybe too soft.
"They have a new voice," Lemaire told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger. "They don't have the practices but they've got a new voice. That has to help. You're coming in and you have to be positive. I have to be positive because I haven't been with them, even though I've watched.
"So it's easier for me than Johnny MacLean to be positive at this point after they lose so many games. I'm going to get mad, too. I would. Maybe it's coming soon."
He vented his anger in a long practice Monday in response to the team losing its first two games under his guidance by a combined 9-2 to the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. Practice won't make perfect in this case. Adequate is a lofty goal.
Edmonton Oilers right wing Ales Hemsky is likely to play this week for the first time since he tore a groin muscle Dec. 1. The Kings were interested in him and might look at him again. He had seven goals in 21 games before exiting the lineup and has a cap hit of $4.1 million this season and next.
The Buffalo Sabres' faint playoff hopes were pretty much extinguished when leading scorer Derek Roy tore a quadriceps muscle, requiring surgery that will end his season….The Ottawa Senators will be without Jason Spezza for several months because of a shoulder injury he suffered over the weekend.
Condolences to the family of retired NHL standout Pierre Turgeon, whose daughter, Elizabeth, 18, was killed in a car accident in New Mexico last week. He coached her while she played for the Colorado Selects and made the 2008 U.S. under-18 team.