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Winter Classic Preview: Five Matchups to Watch Thursday

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    NHLI via Getty Images
    WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 31: A Winter Classic puck is seen during practice for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on December 31, 2014 at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. The 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will take place on New Year's Day with the Washington Capitals playing the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals are taking the game of hockey outside on January 1 as the two teams square off in the eighth annual Winter Classic game at Nationals Park.

    Before the two teams hit the ice, we have five matchups that you’ll need to pay attention to as the two teams attempt to ring in the New Year on a high note.

    Jonathan Toews vs. Nicklas Backstrom

    Both players are highly-talented passers, and both players enjoy responsibilities as leaders on their respective teams, so it makes sense to start our list with two of the best centers in the entire NHL.

    Toews is having himself another fine season, scoring 13 goals and dishing out 18 assists for the Hawks, but Backstrom has even better numbers for the Caps. With 12 goals and 26 assists, Backstrom leads in the offensive categories, but Toews’ advantage on the defensive side of the puck makes this matchup a dead heat.

    Patrick Kane vs. Alex Ovechkin

    Speaking of dead heats, the matchup between Kane and Ovechkin is going to be arguably the most exciting to watch. Kane is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season so far, scoring 18 goals and racking up 22 assists for the Blackhawks. Ovechkin has 17 goals so far this year, but with his penchant for exploding offensively at any time, he’s always a threat to score. Both players possess wicked quick wrist shots, and Kane’s speed going up against Ovechkin’s brute strength is definitely intriguing.

    Duncan Keith vs. Mike Green

    This matchup has been trending in Keith’s favor this season, with the defending Norris Trophy winner outpacing Green in both goals and assists. Green has played in eight fewer games however, so his numbers are certainly comparable to Keith’s in terms of points per game. Keith does also have an edge on the defensive side of things, and that’s only bolstered by the fact that his partner Brent Seabrook is playing some of the best hockey of his career.

    Corey Crawford vs. Braden Holtby

    In a battle of potential Vezina candidates, Crawford has a narrow lead in GAA (2.08 to 2.28) and save percentage (.921 to .920), while Holtby has an edge in wins, with 16 to Crawford’s 14. Both players have been under intense scrutiny in their careers, but the pressure has been even more magnified on Crawford this season as he tries to live up to his new six-year contract and deal with the fall-out of his concert injury that cost him over two weeks of action.

    Watching how the goaltenders not only deal with the potential glare from the sun, but also with potent offenses going up against them, should make for an interesting afternoon for the men in the crease.

    Joel Quenneville vs. Barry Trotz

    Both coaches have developed as stars of the Epix series “Road to the NHL Winter Classic,” with Quenneville’s fiery demeanor and Trotz’s matter-of-factness in dealing with his players showing that there really is more than one way to coach an NHL team.

    Quenneville has the edge in seniority and titles on Trotz, but the Caps’ first year coach has a system that seems to be working, and his team is really starting to buy into what he’s selling.