- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BALTIMORE — The Capitals were thrilled to get a sellout crowd of 11,082 at 1st Mariner Arena on Tuesday night for the Baltimore Hockey Classic. But in terms of the on-ice action, that many people packed into a building built in 1962 didn’t help.

The ice was slippery and there were visible puddles all over the rink, with conditions slowing down play to a crawl for much of the Caps’ 2-0 loss to the Nashville Predators.

It was very warm. It was like Winter Classic game,”captain Alex Ovechkin. “You can see the ice was not that good and between the boards and ice there was lots of holes. But it is what it is. We just play over it.”

Having reliable ice was considered an area of concern going in, as 1st Mariner Arena hadn’t hosted a professional hockey game since 1997. Arena general manager Frank Remesch told The Washington Times last week that new ice is made twice a year for 16 Disney On Ice shows. Spokeswoman Jamie Curtis said Tuesday night that this ice surface was new, dating to Sept. 12 – or eight days before the game.

Players quietly said the ice wasn’t great after the morning skate, and coach Bruce Boudreau blamed the heat in the building. The same problem was there during the game, and Boudreau again pointed to the heat as the reason for ice issues.

When you have a full building, and this part of the country is very warm and humid, and just didn’t get the building cold enough. It wasn’t great,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “But it is what it is. We played last night in Florida, and it wasn’t a whole lot better – just it was a whole lot less water.”

There was little doubt the water on the ice affected play. Mike Green slipped in the neutral zone twice, goaltenders slid out of the crease and the puck didn’t perform as it should if the ice was ideal.

You see how wet the ice is, sometimes you get a puck and you kind of worry about if you try to handle it, is it going to get stuck in the water?” defenseman Sean Collins said. “I just tried to focus on moving the puck quick and getting it off my stick.”

Some players said they weren’t worried about getting injured with these conditions, though Ovechkin did say it was on his mind – more because of some problems around the boards.

Of course you think about more when you go to the boards in the corners, especially in the corners the ice is not that good,” he said.

The Caps couldn’t generate much offense, but Nicklas Backstrom and others were quick to take blame away from the ice. Ovechkin said he and his teammates tried to play too fancy in the first two periods and didn’t get down to business with a solid, gritty game until after the Predators went up 2-0.

Nashville – knowing the ice conditions and how much firepower the Caps possess – had a strategy to make it all work.

The conditions were what they were in a hot building, so you’ve really got to be mentally tough,” Trotz said. “So we talk about, let’s keep it simple. We can’t control the humidity and the heat and all that – let’s just have to play a simple game and be really mentally tough.”

It worked, sending most of the crowd that filled up 1st Mariner Arena for this novelty preseason game home less than happy. Some started to head to the exits when Colin Wilson made it 2-0 8:59 into the third period.

Boudreau was impressed with the play of younger guys – notably Stan Galiev – and talked highly of the line that included Garrett Mitchell, D.J. King and Jay Beagle.

The younger players were probably shining brighter, if there was anybody shining,” the coach said.

Given the conditions, it might’ve been difficult to get a perfect read on players like Cody Eakin and how some of the veterans looked in their first preseason action. But Boudreau was able to formulate enough.

It’s hard to judge the skill. But at the same time, it’s always easy to judge effort,” he said. “Whether you’re in a blinding snowstorm or in a rainstorm as the Winter Classic was, you can tell.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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