Soldier Field, the frozen tundra (or the frozen surface atop the sod-type stuff) and the insanity known as late-winter weather here in Chicago: It makes for a great combination, doesn’t it? Well, many hope it does, anyway.
What’s likely to be a very enjoyable combination is the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks playing on the grand Stadium Series stage. Considering the lineups each team possesses, it promises to be entertaining at the least. The Penguins are the best in the Eastern Conference with 84 points; the Blackhawks also have 84 points, good for third in the Western Conference. Great teams, great prime-time setting and there’s a great chance that this will be a memorable outing.
Will the hockey be all we hope it can be in the elements? Will there be any elements? Did Antti Raanta secretly have Corey Crawford’s Stadium Series mask shipped to his house, and is he holding it for ransom or eBay considerations? While we ponder these questions, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Penguins-Blackhawks game.
1. Crosby vs. Toews, the long-awaited showdown. Seriously, it really has been long-awaited. Be it injuries, schedules or lockouts, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby have never squared off in an NHL regular-season game. And what a time for that first matchup to take place. Seeing what each team captain can bring is probably going to be show-worthy unto itself.
2. Playing in the elements. It’s supposed to snow. As of early Saturday afternoon in downtown Chicago, we’re not seeing much; but give it a few minutes. Anyway, whatever does come about tonight, be it wind or snow or just the cold, each team is going to have to adjust and play accordingly. “You just have to roll with whatever happens,” Patrick Sharp said on Friday night. “You’re not going to feel perfect, it’s not going to be a normal Saturday night at the United Center. There are to be some challenges, but both sides will deal with it. You enjoy the experience and try to play the best hockey you can.”
3. Getting back on track. The Blackhawks entered the Olympic break with a loss and came out of it with another. Calm down; this is not a time-to-panic thing. Nevertheless, the Blackhawks want to get back to their winning ways. There was no doubt on Thursday that the Blackhawks were out of sorts, struggling to get on the right page. We’re guessing some of those issues are resolved by tonight.
4. Enjoy the spectacle that is outdoor NHL hockey. This is for you to all watch for more than it is for each team’s players. It’s outdoor hockey, it’s pomp and circumstance, it’s crazy, it’s somewhat improvised. But it’s a show, whether it’s been in Los Angeles or New York. Whether you’re one of 80,000 in the stands, one of a hundred at the local watering hole or one of four in your family watching from home, enjoy it for what it is, folks.
5. Our pick to click is ... Duncan Keith. The Blackhawks defenseman had a pretty strong night on Thursday in New York, and we think he thrives in the outdoor setting tonight.