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Mighty winds leave Capitals, Maple Leafs wondering about impact on outdoor game

Washington Capitals reflect and prepare for this weekend’s NHL Stadium Series outdoor game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium (Video: Billy Tucker/The Washington Post)
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Capitals Coach Barry Trotz heard it whipping around his house all night. Players felt it walking from their front door to their cars this morning, and then again from their cars to the team practice facility. The not-so-subtle elephant in the room of this upcoming Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis is the wind — and how much of a nuisance it might be Saturday night.

Unsurprisingly, given the rarity of outdoor NHL games, players from both the Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs said they’ve never played in windy conditions like those felt Friday before. As far as adjustments go, those might have to be made on the fly. The current forecast projects the wind to have died down some by Saturday’s 8 p.m. puck drop with 16-mph gusts expected.

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“Probably when you backcheck, if you have a turnover and you’ve got to backcheck [into the wind], then it’ll be a little tough,” center Nicklas Backstrom said.

But if Washington has the wind at its back …

“Yeah, that’d be nice,” Backstrom said. “Hopefully we get that for two periods.”

Said Trotz: “I’ve thought about it. Maybe we’ll have to flip a coin for the end zone like football. It’s part of it. You better not be too tired on the backcheck against the wind because you’ll never get back. We’ll see how it is. The league will decide and if we’re going to play for how windy it is.”

Outdoor practices in Annapolis were canceled on Friday because of a high wind warning, gusts reportedly up to 70 mph in some parts of the region. The teams practiced indoors instead, and while Toronto and Washington were scheduled to have morning skates on the outdoor rink Saturday, both teams have since cancelled those plans, too, meaning the first time each will be able to get a feel for the surroundings will be during pregame warmups. They’ll also get a first taste of the wind, which could affect even the most routine plays, like dump-ins.

NHL ice guru Dan Craig and his crew monitor the playing surface while the NHL’s department of hockey operations monitors general playing conditions and weather reports before and during the game to determine if the conditions are playable. In situations with wind, the teams might switch ends midway through the third period to ensure that each team is skating into the wind for 30 minutes, or half the game.

A league spokesman said the NHL is monitoring weather, aware of the gusting winds in the area, and while there’s no exact threshold of miles per hour that makes a game unplayable, teams won’t be forced to compete in unsafe conditions. But the game is expected to go on as scheduled, but the league announced it will provide another update on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

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Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner said “it won’t feel good on your body, that’s for sure.”

“You have to simplify the game and make sure you play simple and make sure you play north instead of east-west,” Backstrom said.

“The wind wouldn’t be ideal, but part of playing these games is you have to deal with the weather,” Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “Right now I think she was a little windy out there, but hopefully she clears up a little bit for us. But we’ll see. If it’s windy tomorrow, we’ll just have to deal with it. There’s two teams that have to deal with it, so we’re not too worried about it.”

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