Ranking the NHL's 2014 outdoor schedule

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Ranking the NHL's 2014 outdoor schedule

On Jan. 1, the 2014 Winter Classic will kick start the NHL’s outdoor schedule, during which a total of six games will be played in the elements. Here’s how I rank them:

Penguins vs. Blackhawks, March 1, Soldier Field
A Windy City winter wonderland will provide hockey fans a star-studded outdoor classic in what could be a Stanley Cup Finals preview.

Soldier Field, just off the shore of Lake Michigan, could make for a frigid affair in a stadium that produced the Monsters of the Midway. The aerials and scenes of downtown Chicago in the distance will only add to the allure of this game.

The 2009 contest between the Blackhawks and Red Wings at Wrigley Field produced one of the best Winter Classics to date, but this matchup has the potential of topping it.

Pond hockey rating: 10

Ducks vs. Kings, Jan. 25, Dodger Stadium
What makes this game intriguing, perhaps even more than the two teams involved, is the question of whether an outdoor hockey game can actually be played in Southern California.

Temperatures in L.A. late in January range from the high 40s to the low 50s. Any chance of seeing palm trees adorn the field at Dodger Stadium would serve as a nice touch.

This is the also the first game after the Winter Classic, so the novelty of an outdoor setting will still have a uniqueness about it.

The Ducks and Kings are currently the top two teams in the Pacific Division, and their L.A.-based rivalry just might boil over at Chavez Ravine.

Pond hockey rating: 8

Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs, Jan. 1, Michigan Stadium
An Original Six matchup in a stadium filled with nostalgia is certain to produce an attendance record for an NHL game.

Unfortunately, HBO’s "24/7" isn’t creating much buildup as Detroit and Toronto continue to struggle heading into this game with no real compelling storylines developing between either team. Both teams desperately need their star players healthy for this game to have any entertainment value.

Still, it’s New Year’s Day with Doc Emrick calling the shots on NBC. Tough to beat.

Pond hockey rating: 6.5

Devils vs. Rangers, Jan. 26, Yankee Stadium
Outdoor hockey in The Big Apple for the first time.

The timing of this game is ideal as it won’t be swallowed up by the hype of an NFL Sunday. This game conveniently falls between the AFC/NFC Championship weekend and the Super Bowl at nearby MetLife Stadium the following week when sports fans are languishing for anything before the big game.

Although the Devils and Rangers have been mediocre in the first half of the season, the possibility of a Henrik Lundqvist-Martin Brodeur showdown could make this game one of the memorable ones on the schedule.

Pond hockey rating: 5.5

Senators vs. Canucks, March 2, BC Place
After watching the Penguins and Blackhawks the previous day, the Heritage Classic will feel like the Triple-A All-Star Game, which is typically played the day after Major League baseball’s Midsummer Classic.

Certainly, there will be excitement north of the border, but here in the U.S., the interest level will rank right up there with an Indians-Mariners doubleheader in a venue that holds no historical relevance.

However, the Canucks are still in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, which gives this game some credibility. Let’s hope the Senators can turn their season around in time to make this game an important one for both teams.

Pond hockey rating: 4

Islanders vs. Rangers, Jan. 29, Yankee Stadium
On a bad day (Wednesday), with a bad team (the Islanders are at the bottom of the woeful Metropolitan Division), in a venue where the novelty will have already worn off after watching the Devils and Rangers three days earlier.

By then, sports fans will be in all-out Super Bowl mode. Barring a four-goal effort from John Tavares or a 10-round shootout, I fear this game will be the real dud on the outdoor circuit.

Pond hockey rating: 2

Flyers-Senators 10 observations: Jordan Weal comes through with finishing touch

Flyers-Senators 10 observations: Jordan Weal comes through with finishing touch

Thanks to Jordan Weal and more shootout magic -- yes, you read that correctly -- the Flyers captured a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

Weal netted a game-tying marker and the only tally of the skills competition in which the Flyers are now 7-4 this season.

Here are 10 observations from the victory:

1. Weal made a heady play by skating hard to the net as Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson left the crease to play a puck. He intercepted Anderson's pass and quickly buried the shot to knot the score, 2-2, with 7:25 left in the third period. The rookie has five goals in his last 11 games and has turned into a serious catalyst for a team that has struggled to score goals since mid-December.

2. The Flyers have back-to-back wins for the first time since Feb. 28-March 3. Still, they have only six games left, all against Metropolitan Division opponents. Their record against the remaining clubs on the schedule is 6-9-1. The Flyers stayed put Tuesday -- six points out of the second wild-card spot as both the Bruins and Maple Leafs won.

3. Brayden Schenn snapped the Flyers' 0-for-17 power-play skid on a deflection of Shayne Gostisbehere's shot with 1:26 left in the first period. The Flyers were 3 for 46 on the man advantage in March until Schenn's tally. With the current state of the Flyers' season, Schenn's production has gone somewhat unnoticed. Coming off a four-year contract extension this offseason, the 25-year-old forward has 23 goals, three from tying his career high set last season. Sure, he's been reliant on the power play (like many of his teammates), but Schenn has shown up after being rewarded.

4. Good effort by the Flyers after beating the Penguins, 6-2. They had struggled in sustaining any semblance of consistency and finally did for consecutive games -- and it came on fan appreciation night.

5. Steve Mason made his 13th start in the last 15 games and did his part. It looked like he didn't see Kyle Turris' shot in the third period that handed Ottawa a 2-1 lead. Overall, though, Mason once again gave the Flyers a chance. He entered with a 2.12 goals-against average over his last 12 games, while making 26 saves and three stops in the shootout Tuesday. The other goal allowed was gift-wrapped by Flyers penalties, resulting in a 5-on-3 and Erik Karlsson blast.

6. The Senators did what they do: aggressive and disruptive play on the puck-handler and making the opposition work for everything. Ottawa thrives on close, grind-it-out games, which has been a recipe for success as the Senators vie for the Atlantic Division crown.

7. Anderson has just been a wonderful story this season. He's taken some time away from the team to be alongside his wife, Nicholle, who is battling cancer. And even through that, he's having one heck of a season at 35 years old for a team destined for the playoffs.

8. Stick tap to Radko Gudas for jumping on the opportunity to stand up for a teammate late in the first period. Weal, not of much size at 5-foot-10, 179 pounds, was on the receiving end of two hits from 6-foot-1, 216-pound defenseman Mark Borowiecki. The second check was to the back and put Weal headfirst into the boards. Gudas saw it perfectly and swooped in to send a message.

9. More on Weal -- the rookie forward has shown he can help the Flyers in the future. With him playing well in a top-six role, Ottawa looked like it put a concerted effort on being physical with Weal. Similar to Travis Konecny, that's something Weal will have to overcome as more defensive focus is shifted to him.

10. A little inside the box score …
• With his assist, Gostisbehere has three points in his last two games. He's been active offensively with nine shots in those two outings.

• The Flyers were 1 for 4 on the power play, making them 4 for 48 this month.

• The Flyers outshot the Senators, 35-28, and blocked more shots, 20-17.

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Senators 2 (SO)

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Senators 2 (SO)

BOX SCORE

A live-and-let-die week of hockey began for the Flyers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center against the Ottawa Senators.
 
This was a playoff-type, defensive hockey game from the second period to the finish with the Flyers prevailing 3-2 in the shootout. Jordan Weal won it after saving the Flyers in regulation.

Ottawa's Kyle Turris broke a 1-1 tie with 7:25 left, but Weal re-tied it with 5:59 left in regulation.

Despite the win, Boston's victory over Nashville dropped the tragic number to six points to eliminate the Flyers from the wild card.
 
Notable goals
Weal's third goal in five games that made it 2-2. Goalie Craig Anderson tried to clear the puck and Weal intercepted for an open net.

Challenge
Ottawa lost its challenge that Wayne Simmonds interfered with Anderson at the net on Weal's goal.
 
Goalie report
Steve Mason made his ninth start in 10 games.
 
Power play
Four shots and no goals on the Flyers' first attempt. They had two shots on their second chance. Yet, they did score with a brief 39-second brief power play at period's end to tie the game. Brayden Schenn tipped a Shayne Gostisbehere drive. 

The Flyers are a woeful 4 for 47 on the power play for March. They were 1 for 4 against the Sens, who are 17th in the NHL in penalty killing.
 
Penalty kill
Naturally, the Senators took advantage of their PPs. They had a 23-second five-on-three and scored on nifty 35-foot snap-wrister from Erik Karlsson to make it 1-0. Ottawa was 1 for 3.
 
Fights
Radko Gudas decisioned Mark Borowiecki in the first period.
 
Scratches
Forwards Roman Lyubimov (healthy), Michael Raffl (left knee) and Nick Cousins (concussion) and defenseman Nick Schultz (healthy).
 
Up next
The Flyers practice Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Skate Zone. They will face the Islanders on Thursday at Wells Fargo Center.