Pittsburgh is warming up to the Winter Classic, and that could be a problem for the NHL.
Forecasters are predicting moderate temperatures and rain showers for the Capitals-Penguins outdoor game tomorrow, conditions that could result in a delay.
The game is scheduled for 1 p.m., and the NHL is prepared to push back the game as late as 8 p.m. The NHL also could postpone the game to Sunday - forecast calls for cloudy skies with a hint of sunshine and a high of 38 - but prefers not to because NBC's telecast would oppose NFL games on CBS and Fox.
"We're planning to play at 1 o'clock," NHL chief operating officer John Collins said yesterday. "We've got maximum flexibility to do what we need to do to get that game in on Saturday. If for some reason it was completely unplayable, we have other options. But we fully expect to get the game in on Saturday."
However, he said: "This could take a little while."
The forecast for today's team practices and the Capitals-Penguins alumni game featuring Mario Lemieux is cloudy with temperatures in the 50s.
Temperatures well above freezing should not affect the ice. NHL ice specialist Dan Craig said the ice is designed to withstand air temperatures of up to 65 without deteriorating.
Rain is a worry because it could increase the chance for injuries. The league isn't about to risk having Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin slip on a rain puddle and tear a knee ligament.
"If we have weather during the game, we'll make adjustments," Collins said.
Conditions were near perfect for the first three Winter Classics in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston, with seasonal temperatures and, in Buffalo, plenty of snow. Although rain on New Year's Day in Pittsburgh is uncommon, it has occurred; there have been multiple Steelers home playoff games played in above-average temperatures.
The NHL is not ready to announce possible contingency plans because there are no predictions of a drenching rain that would last for hours.
"Weather is the biggest factor, and weather can change," Collins said. "Hopefully, it's going to change. We're not talking about that kind of weather pattern. We're not talking about a blizzard, we're not talking about lightning, we're not talking about tremendously high winds. We're not talking about any of those type of things that would create that kind of a crisis. We'll do what we need to do."
In games last night:
* At Toronto, Kristian Huselius scored twice and R.J. Umberger added the winner on a third-period power play in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 3-2 victory over the Maple Leafs. Umberger scored his 11th goal of the season at 3:34 of the third. With Joey Crabb off for holding, Umberger tipped Rick Nash's wrist shot past goalie Jonas Gustavsson.
* At Atlanta, Tim Stapleton and Bryan Little scored in the first two rounds of a shootout and Toby Enstrom had two power-play goals in the Thrashers' 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins.
* At Tampa, Steven Stamkos had two goals and two assists, rookie goalie Cedrick Desjardins won in his NHL debut and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens, 4-1.
* At Chicago, Joe Thornton's third-period goal proved to be the game-winner as the San Jose Sharks defeated the Blackhawks, 5-3.
* At Edmonton, Milan Hedjuk scored the lone shootout goal as the Colorado Avalanche dropped the Oilers, 4-3.
* Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf will be out for at least two games after a deflected puck broke his nose. The Ducks put Getzlaf on injured reserve, which means he'll miss the Ducks' upcoming home games against the Flyers and Chicago.
* New York Rangers center Erik Christensen will miss 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury.