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Odd Man Rush: Will players turn on outdoor games?

12:16 PM, Jan 24, 2014   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When is too much of something a bad thing?

Beginning on Saturday, the NHL will feature three outdoor games in five days. That is in addition to the already-played Winter Classic and another two contests to be played outside to open the month of March.

The league knows that it struck gold amongst the fans and television ratings with its previous outdoor showcases and whether or not it is watering down the product has been a debate since the "Stadium Series" contests were announced that added four more outdoor games in addition to the New Year's Day event and the Heritage Classic in Vancouver slated for March 2.

But recent comments show the players are perhaps getting a bit sick of the novelty themselves.

Take Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, whose Ducks will visit the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

"There are a lot of distractions going on this week with the outdoor game. Everyone wants to talk about it, and they have been talking about it for the last two weeks. It's hard to focus in on what you need to do and on the points at end. That's an excuse, and it's nothing that our group hasn't been a part of before or will be part of again. When there are distractions, we've got to learn to play through them," Getzlaf said after a loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.

It's worth noting that the setback was the Ducks' first at home in regulation this season, ending an incredible 22-game season-opening point streak as the hosting club, but the loss also may have allowed Getzlaf to finally vent some steam about Saturday's game.

Then it was the Kings' turn to try to divert the focus from the outdoor contest to the NHL standings after a 2-1 setback in Anaheim on Thursday in a preview of the Stadium Series clash.

"The Stadium Series is kind of for everyone else," Kings forward Justin Williams said following the loss. "Yeah, it's cool, but we're there to win a hockey game. We're there to play a hockey game regardless of where it is. We're playing the best team in the league right now. If we have to win it 1-0, we have to win it 1-0. We're just not getting it done."

The Kings have now lost four in a row ahead of Saturday's game and sit third in the Pacific Division, three points in front of Vancouver for the division's final automatic playoff berth. Los Angeles also fell 17 points behind NHL- leading Anaheim, which has 81 points on the season.

So is it fair to the Kings, Ducks and any other team tabbed for these additional contests that there is so much hype, focus and distraction around a game that still yields only two points to the winner?

"Two points are going to be on the line -- just like any other game," Kings forward Anze Kopitar told lakingsinsider.com. "Yes, we're going to play outdoors. It's obviously going to be a different venue, a different atmosphere, but at the end of the day, we're going to try to get two points."

We already saw Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle grow weary of the distractions leading up to the 2014 Winter Classic on New Year's Day, an event that includes an HBO special and plenty of focus well before the game.

Carlyle was relieved when the game was finally over, helped by the fact his team beat the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, in a shootout.

"Finally. It's been a long three weeks, that's for sure," the Leafs coach said afterward.

"With what's gone on with our hockey club and the way we've played, the inconsistencies we've played to and the microscope that we've been under, you get to see a lot of them, and there's a lot of things that are going on inside that are hard to deal with when you're always constantly under a camera or microphone."

And that is what the Kings and Ducks -- as well as the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, who meet on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium -- are dealing with currently while also trying to focus on the goal at hand: making the playoffs.

There is no easy solution if the league wants to ease the burden of these cash cows. Preseason games outside won't satisfy fans or sponsors, nor will playing them earlier in the season under warmer weather.

Really, the only answer is to keep the number of games played outside to a minimal despite the urge to bleed all the green from the event. The situation is akin to a caffeine addict walking past a local Starbucks every morning, so the NHL will need plenty of discipline.

But the league will need to keep its ear to the ground to avoid a fight from the players that may be coming if the outdoor games continue to be a big distraction.

The Sports Network

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