Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan insists his team is ``not going to worry about the weather … not going to focus on things we can’t control.’’
``Both teams have to play in the same conditions,’’ he said after the Penguins practiced in ideal conditions at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday afternoon in preparation for Saturday’s scheduled 8 p.m. start to the Stadium Series game against the Flyers.
True. But both teams do not have the face of the league on their team, and the idea of Sidney Crosby negotiating what is forecast to be a steady downpour is a hard thing to ignore -- for Sullivan, and for the NHL.
As late as Friday evening, AccuWeather was predicting a saturating rain to begin at 5 p.m. Saturday and, save a one-hour window from 7 to 8, to continue until 9 p.m. There is a three-hour window after that, which if the forecast holds, could allow for the game to be played on a delayed basis.
Provided the ice does not become unplayable before that occurs.
``It could be a factor,’’ Crosby, who will be playing in his fifth outdoor NHL game, said after Friday’s practice. ``Obviously, it’s going to be the same for both teams. But it’s not a great thing to be playing in. We’ve played in rain before. It really doesn’t play well. It’s something they have to make a decision on. I think for the most part you’re trying to focus on playing. You can’t control the weather. But it’s not ideal."
Asked if he would feel endangered in such conditions, Crosby said, ``Yeah.’’
``If it starts to rain pretty hard, you’re wearing a visor, your vision, and the ice conditions, all that kind of stuff that can come into play,’’ said the Penguins’ captain. ``To what extent it’s going to rain; if it’s light, it’s not too bad. But if it starts to pour pretty good, that’s going to be a different story.’’
The idea behind any of the NHL’s outdoor games is a romantic one. It hearkens back to each player’s childhood, as well as those of some of the nearly 70,000 fans who have purchased tickets to attend the game. But as many of those who have played on such rinks and ponds can attest, soft ice -- and particularly the slush that hard rain produces -- can trip players, twist ankles and knees, or simply stop players and pucks in their tracks.
``Definitely,’’ said Penguins forward Bryan Rust, who grew up in Michigan and played in two outdoor games for Notre Dame. Those games did not include rain. But a few back home on the pond did.
``You feel a little heavier skating in it," Rust said. "And if you fall on the ice, you’ll gain a few pounds. The water and slush. The puck will feel heavier, your stick will feel heavier. But it’s definitely going to be a lot of fun.’’
He might want to talk to Crosby about that. On Friday, the NHL gave itself a noon Saturday deadline to determine the game’s fate – whether it will start on time, start later, or be pushed off until Sunday at 6 p.m., hours after the system – which is expected to create flooding in some areas -- is expected to clear. Winds will pick up, however.
Temperatures are expected to be in the low 50s Sunday night, which the coils under the rink are equipped to handle. Asked if he might prefer to play then rather than slosh around in the rain, Crosby said: ``I’m willing to do anything. It’s the same for both teams, whatever they decide. I think playing-wise, you’d love for conditions to be great: clear skies, great ice conditions.
``But if it doesn’t happen, it’s part of playing outside. We’ve all been through [adversity] at certain points in our lives, for sure. You just have to deal with it.’’
Making that easier is the team the Penguins are playing. Crosby is in his 14th season, and the intrastate rivalry has been a staple.
``It ebbs and flows a little bit, but it doesn’t change a lot in the course of time that I’ve been here,’’ he said. ``It’s always intense and emotional, and it always seems like there’s a little extra when the teams play each other.
``Both teams always bring out the best. I think that’s what we expect tomorrow.’’