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Crash The Net - Pens Q&A

by Bob Grove / Pittsburgh Penguins
Crash the Net is a weekly web Q&A on Click here to submit a question.

QUESTION: Are the Pens playing outdoors in Buffalo this season?
-Dan in Pittsburgh

BOB GROVE: There still is no official word on whether one of two Pittsburgh at Buffalo games -- Jan. 1 or Feb. 17 -- will be played outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. The stadium seats 73,967 for football. Should this come to pass, it will be a lot of fun for the players and fans alike, and everyone who wants a seat will be able to get one.

The Heritage Classic played in 2003 in Edmonton.
The Penguins and Sabres won't be breaking new ground, however. The first outdoor NHL game I can recall was on Sept. 28, 1991 in Las Vegas, a preseason game between the Kings and Rangers played outside Caesar's Palace. Playing hockey outside in the desert, of course, presented lots of logistical challenges for the ice makers, but the ice turned out OK. The bright lights erected for the game, however, drew swarms of grasshoppers, many of which wound up on the ice.

Ten years later, on Oct. 6, 2001, Michigan and Michigan State met at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., and drew 74,544 fans. This was the first hockey game to be played in a football stadium, and the game garnered plenty of media attention.

The NHL was watching, too, and had the Oilers and Canadiens play at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Nov. 22, 2003. The game, played in bitter cold temperatures, drew 57,167 fans. The most recent outdoor game was on Feb. 11, 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, where Wisconsin and Ohio State played before 40,890 fans.

It would be awesome to have the Penguins and Sabres add their names to this kind of event. Here's hoping it happens.

QUESTION: Do you think the Penguins can win the Atlantic division title? With the additions of Sydor and Sykora I personally think they will.
-Niels in Noordhoek, Netherlands

BOB GROVE: After putting up 105 points last season -- narrowly missing a division title -- and adding Petr Sykora and Darryl Sydor, the Penguins absolutely could win the Atlantic in 2007-08. But they are not likely to be considered the favorites going in.

With Brian Rafalski and Scott Gomez gone from New Jersey, and a new coach in Brent Sutter behind the bench, the Devils don't figure to repeat as division champions. They'll be a good club -- they always are. Dainius Zubrus had a great playoff run in Buffalo last season but can't begin to make up for that much lost offense.

With their core group a year older, the signing of consistent scorer Sykora and the addition of Sydor and probably Kris Letang to the defense, the Penguins have a great chance to be even better than they were last season. After all, the have the best player in the game and a guy in Evgeni Malkin whose second NHL season should be even more productive.

The Flyers will be vastly improved and should make a run at the playoffs, but the New York Rangers are probably going to be the pick of most people to win the Atlantic. They came very close to reaching the Eastern Finals last spring, and adding Gomez and Chris Drury will really make them a difficult team to contain. Henrik Lundqvist had a superb second half and playoff run, and the Rangers will have tons of experience. The only question mark is a very, very average defense. Look for them to address that at some point.

Right now, in August, it looks to me like a New York-Pittsburgh horse race.

QUESTION: Why doesn't Sidney Crosby get more icetime per game? I know it might expose him to more injuries and what not, but compared to the other top players around the league Crosby is way under their average icetime.

BOB GROVE: Sidney Crosby led all Pittsburgh forwards in average ice time per game last season at 20:45, which was 1:03 more than the next forward, Mark Recchi. Crosby ranked 20th in the NHL in ice time among forwards, so Michel Therrien was getting him out on the ice quite a bit.

Playing him 24-26 minutes a game, rather than helping him produce more points, would probably have the opposite effect: Crosby would be more prone to injury, as you point out, and more tired as the season wears on -- despite being in great shape. The idea is to prepare yourself for a long playoff run, and for that players need reasonable ice time.

Just to put it in perspective, only two forwards in the NHL last season averaged more than 24 minutes per game: Martin St. Louis (24:09) and Brad Richards (24:06).

Crash the Net is a weekly web Q&A on Click here to submit a question.
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