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Friday Four: Preparing for the 2015 Winter Classic

by Kevin Weekes

It's time to start revving up and getting pumped for some outdoor hockey, the perfect way to ring in the new year.

The 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is less than a week away. Washington Capitals. Chicago Blackhawks. Nationals Park. New Year's Day. This celebration of the sport never gets old.

Here is my primer with four things that I'm looking forward to talking about, analyzing, breaking down and watching in the upcoming Winter Classic:

1. Goalie matchup

There is plenty of star power in this one.

Obviously you've got Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin plus so many others in Washington. You've got Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and all the others like Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Patrick Sharp in Chicago.

But one thing to keep an eye on is the goalie matchup. Hey, I'm a goalie, I'm always watching these guys.

Braden Holtby has played really well this year for the Capitals. His goalie coach, the guru himself, Mitch Korn, has done a fantastic job with Holtby.

Obviously Chicago's goalies have been excellent; all three of them. I would assume it'll be Corey Crawford playing in the Winter Classic, but Antti Raanta and Scott Darling have been equally effective.

There is excitement for stars on both sides and I'm pumped for that, but this goalie is also looking out for what should be a great matchup between the pipes.

2. Power of Patrick

Kane's impact for hockey in the United States is immense. He has proven that you don't have to be a huge, big, physical guy to be an impact player in the NHL. Kane has single-handedly flown in the face of scouts who didn't think he could play, and be the player he is now.

I remember people saying he would get killed in the NHL. Well he's been doing it since he was 18 years old, and he's had a huge impact on the game.

Kane's impact is not only felt by his skill, but he's inspired young players to be skilled players, and big-time competitors at the same time.

Don't sell him short. He's very competitive. He works hard. He's not a floater. He's not one-dimensional. He doesn't score only in open ice. He makes plays in traffic.

With this game being in Washington it's the perfect time to celebrate Kane's impact on hockey in the United States.

3. Quenneville's impact

The Blackhawks are a talented group that before was very young, cocky, and inexperienced. Joel Quenneville inherited this group and allowed it to grow and evolve. He treats them like men. He manages them so well.

And as important, Quenneville allows the Blackhawks to play a skilled game. He doesn't yell at them for making plays. He yells when they don't make plays. Look at where he is in the coaching ranks; to me it's just really impressive.

I really don't think it gets talked about how good he is as a coach. This Winter Classic will be another opportunity for us to dive into Quenneville's success.

4. The best depth players in the NHL

Washington has the best depth players in the League.

Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich -- they're all very good players, and for the most part they have been the constants, even though Laich has had some injury issues.

As much as the Capitals have star power, and they obviously do, the most consistent players they have had in the past few seasons have been their depth players. They are there every night, playing the same game over and over and over again.

You can put any one of those guys on the first line or the first power-play unit and they would be just fine. That tells you how good they are.

You'd expect them to be penalty killers, grinders, but those guys contribute. When you look at why Washington hasn't gone deeper, it hasn't been at the hands of their depth players. They're the ones that have been the most consistent.

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