Burnside & LeBrun: Winter Classic grades

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
3:01
AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun grade the 2011 Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins:

Weather

Well, there was a lot of it, and it did play havoc with the timing of the event and quality of the on-ice product. That was bad no matter how you spin it. When the ratings come out, perhaps the fact the weather forced the game to an 8 p.m. ET start will turn out to be a silver lining, but there's no doubt the weather dominated the storyline of this fourth Winter Classic, and not in a positive way. But guess what? If you're going to play outside, stuff is going to happen. Grade: D-minus.

Ice surface

In Buffalo four years ago, you could hardly see the puck by the time Sidney Crosby ended the first Winter Classic in a shootout. The snow was covering the ice too quickly. Without the sophisticated technology now employed by the league, the ice was breaking up and it was a mess. On Saturday, most players said the ice was still in good shape despite the rain. But there was one thing that was obvious throughout the evening: the puck bouncing.

"I think when it started to come down pretty good there, you could see the puck started to bounce even a little bit more," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said.

Instead of two skilled teams matching talent for talent, this game was reduced to teams firing as many pucks as possible at the opposing net. Grade: C.

Prime-time setting

Sure, it was a hassle to move the game to a later start time, but the optics were pretty dramatic. With the lights at Heinz Field shining on the glistening ice, it made for a pretty dramatic vista.

"The scene was spectacular," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Somebody in one of the clubs was telling me that as they approached the stadium and they saw the lights on, it was just a spectacular sight. They got chills down their spine." Grade: A.

Pregame festivities

Not sure anyone will match James Taylor singing the national anthem last year in Boston. And even though we had no idea who Jackie Evancho was, the young lady could sing. Nice touch to have both Canadian and U.S. anthems performed Saturday night (Steven Page, formerly of the Barenaked Ladies, provided a nice rendition of "O Canada"). The Canadian and U.S. flags formed by fans in the end zone were also pretty cool, and it was nice the fans didn't fling the cards away like they did at Wrigley Field. Grade: B.

Crowd

You've got to hand it to the 68,111 souls who took in Winter Classic IV, they were troopers. It wasn't until late in the third period with the Caps up 3-1 when fans started heading for the exits. Not sure it was as raucous a crowd as the one for the Classic at Wrigley, but that may be a function of the acoustics at an NFL stadium as opposed to a Major League Baseball park. Grade: B-plus.

Capitals

They showed the hockey world on the biggest stage of the regular season just how their tweaked game is looking. A better defensive team that was able to limit Crosby, the Caps looked more playoff-ready. Alex Ovechkin was held off the score sheet, but was noticeable in a strong two-way performance.

"A lot of people are making a lot of big things out of the [lack of] goals," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's never once come to me and worried about his goal production. ... And he wants to do better. And you watch later on in the game, he was doing whatever it took to win as a team.

"I mean, last summer, he said he didn't care about numbers, what he cares about is winning," Boudreau added. "I truly believe that, and he'll be just as happy if he gets 45 goals or 40 goals and he wins something in April, May and June as if he got 70 goals and had any individual award. And that's what captains are all about. And he doesn't get enough credit for it, but he deserves [it]." Grade: A-minus.

Penguins

Jordan Staal was impressive in his first game in eight months, although he seemed to tire out a bit near the end. Crosby was held off the score sheet for the second straight game. Evgeni Malkin had one of his better games and scored a beauty. Overall, the Pens didn't generate enough offensive opportunities. An off night for them. Grade: C.

Mario Lemieux

The Penguins owner thrilled fans at Friday's alumni game, returning to action for the first time since his retirement. Then, he stunned the assembled media when he agreed to talk after the game. To cap it off, he said what Crosby has done so far this season is more impressive than anything he ever did. Well done, Mario. Grade: A.

Best game comment

That's an easy one. Caps owner Ted Leonsis: "The highlight for me was two sections filled with Caps fans and Pens fans and they looked at each other and they started chanting 'Flyers suck.' It's like they bonded around something." Grade: B-plus.

Overall

The game was better than average despite weather conditions in the third period that affected the integrity of the game to an extent. But the event was once again a success. The buzz in Pittsburgh since we arrived Wednesday has been out of this world. Bar none, this is the event of the NHL's regular season. One day, Mother Nature will prevent the game from being played on Jan. 1, but that's a story for another day. Grade: A.

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