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

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”

Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov show glimpses, Alex Lyon stars in Flyers' split-squad loss

Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov show glimpses, Alex Lyon stars in Flyers' split-squad loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — Split-squad games have their advantages and disadvantages.

The Devils presented a hefty NHL-laden lineup against a Flyers unit with one NHL forward — Scott Laughton — Monday night at the Prudential Center.

Not surprisingly, the Devils won, 2-0. Among the prospects to watch in this one were forward Travis Konecny and defenseman Ivan Provorov.

The one player who absolutely shined in this was goalie Alex Lyon, who finished with 28 saves on 29 shots.

Konecny was again at right wing but this time on Andy Miele’s line with Laughton, who’s been at left wing all camp.

“Miele can distribute the puck and makes plays and Scotty Laughton brings a more veteran presence and some power and speed on the left wing,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Add the ability that Travis has, it fits pretty well with those two.”

Konecny worked on the first-unit power play in the right slot. He lost a puck in the corner, regained it and fed Corban Knight for a near goal in the paint.

He had a shot, turnover and hit going into the final period and handled himself well against older veterans.

During a third-period power play, with the Flyers behind, 1-0, he got a rebound in the high slot but chose to pass the puck rather than reposition himself for a shot on goalie Anders Lindback.

Lyon impressive
Lyon, the free-agent goalie signed out of Yale, was under siege in the opening period, facing 13 shots. The Devils had a stacked veteran lineup against mostly kids from the Flyers.

He was very good, especially playing the angles from which the Devils like to attack. He also stopped Beau Bennett on a breakaway out of the penalty box with his right pad.

Lyon had a sliding pad save on Bennett in the second period, as well, off a two-on-none break.

Provorov debut
He was paired with Brandon Manning and played the left side.

The 19-year-old Russian showed some speed and worked on the first-unit power play with Konecny. Provorov did some nice stickwork to get around Devils veteran Travis Zajac on the forecheck in the first period.

One aspect that stood out as the game progressed was that Provorov’s passes on the breakout were too quick for his forwards to handle. He’s that talented that he gets the puck and it’s gone before they can catch it in stride.

Lyubimov debut 
Another forward battling for a roster spot is Russian center Roman Lyubimov, who played right wing on Anthony Salinitri’s line with Connor Bunnaman.

He’s very quick to chasing down pucks off the faceoff and very strong in battling for position or puck possession in tight spaces.

He worked the penalty kill in Russia and was on the first unit here, where he had a blocked shot.

Loose pucks 
The Flyers fell to the Islanders, 3-0, in their other game. Anthony Stolarz started in net and made 33 saves. ... With a split-squad game and the Flyers missing players because of the World Cup of Hockey, they had only three NHLers in their lineup vs. the Devils: Laughton, Manning and South Jersey’s T.J. Brennan. … Laughton had a nifty chance late in the second period and missed everything. … The Devils got a goal from Nick Lappin soon after on a second rebound. Nothing Lyon could do. … The Flyers actually outshot the Devils, 10-9, that stanza. … The Devils had an empty-net goal at the end. ... Tuesday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders will be televised on TCN.