for this game

Pens host Caps under the lights at Heinz Field

Jan 1, 2011 - 8:08 PM (Sports Network) - As if the spotlight on the highly-anticipated Winter Classic battle between Sidney Crosby's Penguins and Alex Ovechkin's Capitals could be any brighter, the game will now be played under the lights at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.

This marks the NHL's fourth edition of the Winter Classic, the league's annual outdoor game on New Year's Day, and it will be the first time the game will be played at night. Due to weather concerns the start time of the contest has been pushed back to 8 p.m. (et) from its original afternoon slot at 1 p.m.

The temperature this afternoon at Heinz Field is expected to be in the low 50s, which is not ideal for an outdoor hockey game, but rain in the daytime forecast is the real concern. Rain wreaks havoc on ice conditions and also poses visibility problems for the players. By tonight, league officials believe the rain will have subsided and the ice surface will be in much better shape. The temperature is expected to be in the low 40s tonight.

"Obviously playing under the lights is a little bit different" NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "We think, all in all, this is a much better, safer circumstance for the players."

Pittsburgh is a participant in this event for a second time and today's game marks the club's first time as the host. The Penguins beat Buffalo in a memorable shootout in the inaugural Winter Classic at a snowy Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008.

This year's Winter Classic features a pair of Eastern Conference heavyweights in the Capitals and Penguins. Pittsburgh is currently tied with Detroit for the NHL lead with 53 points. Washington is locked with Tampa Bay for first in the Southeast Division with 49 points.

The clubs met recently for the first time this season when Pittsburgh notched a 3-2 shootout victory on Dec. 23 in Washington. Crosby extended his point streak to 23 games with a goal and an assist in that game, but his scoring run has since come to an end.

Washington had won four straight and seven out of eight meetings with the Pens prior to last week's setback. The Capitals have still won five in a row in Pittsburgh, but, of course, this will be their first-ever game at Heinz Field -- home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tonight also marks Washington's first-ever outdoor game. The only current Capital to have played in an outdoor game as an NHLer is Jason Chimera, who skated for Edmonton in the 2003 Heritage Classic against Montreal.

The Capitals have won two straight and four of their last five games (4-0-1) and appear to have rebounded from an eight-game losing streak that lasted from Dec. 2-18.

Washington last played on Tuesday when it recorded a shutout victory over visiting Montreal. Semyon Varlamov made 25 saves to record his fourth career blanking as the Caps subdued the Canadiens, 3-0, at the Verizon Center.

Ovechkin, Mike Green and Jay Beagle posted goals for the Capitals.

"We can't get too high, we have to feel like we have for the last week, to keep building and building," Green said. "We haven't accomplished anything yet, there is still a lot to learn. We get to play in a great event on Saturday, so it will be exciting."

It's unclear if Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth will get the start in net for Washington today. Both players have played in just one regular-season game against the Penguins. Varlamov picked up a win in his outing against Pittsburgh, while Neuvirth was saddled with the loss in the shootout defeat a few weeks back.

The Penguins have lost two of their last three games, but still have an amazing 18-3-2 record over their last 23 outings.

Pittsburgh was dealt a shootout loss in its last contest, dropping a 3-2 road decision Wednesday night against the New York Islanders. P.A. Parenteau notched the game-winner in the fourth round of the shootout and Crosby's league-best scoring streak ended at 25 games.

"It would have been nice to keep things going, but it was just one of those games," said Crosby, of his streak that was the longest since Mats Sundin went 30 straight with a point for Quebec in 1992. "Sometimes, it's easy to look back. I just try to go out there and do the same things."

Parenteau started the round with a wicked forehand that hit the net just under the crossbar at the right post. Mark Letestu had a chance to keep the game alive for the visitors, but Rick DiPietro smothered his shot with his pads to end the contest.

Chris Conner provided the only offense for the Penguins, while Marc-Andre Fleury, who is expected to start today, made 25 saves in defeat.

Pittsburgh is hoping to have centerman Jordan Staal in the lineup for the first time this season today. Staal began the 2010-11 campaign on the shelf while recovering from offseason foot surgery and then suffered a setback when he sustained a broken right hand in practice on Nov. 1.

Staal, who has registered 20 goal or more in three of his four NHL seasons, is considered to be a game-time decision for today's game.

Washington, meanwhile, is hoping defenseman Tom Poti can return from a head injury today. He has been sidelined since taking a stick to the face against Pittsburgh on Dec. 23.