By Chuck Gormley
Alex Ovechkin learned last January what it was like to play in wind and rain and snow.
Those were the conditions in Pittsburghs Heinz Field for the 2011 Winter Classic.
Tuesday night, the conditions for the inaugural Baltimore Hockey Classic at 1st Mariner Arena were better suited for alligators than hockey players.
The difference, Ovechkin said, is here we were indoors."
A warm building filled with 11,082 fans turned the Capitals preseason opener against the Nashville Predators into a steamy sauna, with puddles forming all over the ice and slowing play down to a crawl.
The Predators received a goal and an assist from Chris Mueller and a pair of assists from Niclas Bergfors to skate away with a 2-0 victory.
It was very warm, said Ovechkin, who played on a line with center Marcus Johansson and Mike Knuble. It was like the Winter Classic game. You could see the ice was not that good and between the boards there were lots of holes. It is what it is.
Ovechkin, whose biggest cheer came after he dropped defenseman Ryan Ellis with a menacing shoulder, said the conditions bordered on dangerous and acknowledged playing more cautiously because of the poor ice.
You think about it more when you go into the boards and in the corner, he said. I dont know how many times tonight we had to check our skates because there were holes and the ice was soft. Thank God nobody got hurt and everybody is healthy.
Ovechkin said the Capitals tried to play too fancy in the first two periods and it wasnt until they simplified their game by dumping pucks into the offensive zone that they began having success. One of those workhorses was 6-foot-3, 208-pound left wing Jay Beagle, who played on a fourth line with D.J. King and Garrett Mitchell.
Beagle was among a handful of players that impressed coach Bruce Boudreau, along with rookie Stanislav Galiev and King.
Whether youre in a blinding snowstorm or in a rain storm like the Winter Classic was, you can tell effort, Boudreau said. I think, with our established players, this didnt mean as much as Oct. 6 would. Its usually the younger, hungrier players that you see take over games like this.
Boudreau put together a strong group of forwards, but went light on NHL defensemen. Marcus Johansson centered a top line with Ovechkin and Mike Knuble, while Nicklas Backstrom centered a second line with Brooks Laich and Alex Semin.
Mike Green and Karl Alzner were paired together as the Caps only NHL blue liners.
A bad line change led to the Predators first goal, the result of a mini 2-on-1 with Sean Collins left alone in front of Michal Neuvirth. The Predators second goal came off a rebound.
The Capitals power play struggled to create much offense on two man-advantages, but Boudreau blamed that more on the choppy ice than a lack of effort. He said he plans on taking a different approach to this years preseason by playing most of his NHL players in five or six of the teams seven exhibition games instead of the normal three or four.
Weve got a lot of new guys, he said, and we want to get our team together as quickly as we can.
As for the Predators, coach Barry Trotz said he enjoyed his return to Baltimore and would be willing to return again next year if the Capitals decide to make it an annual event. Tuesday nights game was the first pro hockey game in the city since the AHL Baltimore Bandits played there 14 years ago.
They just didnt get the building cold enough, Trotz said. It wasnt great. But the building actually looks a little better than when I was here and the whole downtown area looks really good compared to the late 80s and early 90s.
Were a non-traditional market and weve played in places like Little Rock, Arkansas. Why wouldnt we want to play one of the top teams in the National Hokey League?
The Caps players who did not participate in Tuesday nights preseason opener were at Capitals Kettler Iceplex earlier in the day for a scrimmage. RW Ryan Potulny stole the show with a hat trick in a 6-3 win. G Tomas Vokoun picked up the win and is expected to start Wednesday night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. The Caps are expected to practice at KCI on Thursday, then head to Chicago for Friday nights preseason game against the Blackhawks. Former Caps GM David Poile is a big believer that Baltimore is ready for a minor-league hockey team. Its got a great and long history of hockey. If ever there was an opportunity to have a new building at the waterfront, I think it would be fabulous, especially with the Caps so good and so strong. G Michal Neuvirth is sporting a new pair of red goalie pads. Rock the red, right? he said with a laugh. The Capitals are now 0-1 in the preseason. They went 5-1-0 during last years preseason and got off to a 4-1-0 start in the regular season.