Now that we’ve had a few days to digest All Star weekend and get back into the groove of things, here’s a bird’s eye view from the press box.
I’ve long held the belief that the NHL hates fun. I have nothing concrete to support that, merely anecdotal evidence that suggests that “fun” must be carefully monitored and should it get out of control, we’re going to have a Situation on our hands. (See: 2015 All Star Game in Columbus and “it’s just water.”)
The All Star Game is a way to honor the guys whose skill and talent blows away the rest of the crowd and/or is simply having a fantastic year (see: Cam Atkinson) while those who are excellent at shooting square into the goaltender’s crest from the below the goal line (cough Trevor Lewis) don’t typically make the cut and get a nice little break 4-5 day break.
As with anything, there were good moments, bad moments and some “ok, whatever” moments. Let’s start with the passable.
The Four Line Challenge. The name is kind of uninspiring and the point system is awkward. First let me explain how this works: players start at the near blue line and get two attempts to hit either top corner of the net. After each player takes his turn, they move back to the red line and repeat the process - except they added in lower corners for one point and made the top corners two points each. Following that, they moved back to the far blue line and they... did something.... I can’t honestly remember. I had no idea what was going on at that point except that it was getting increasingly difficult to score. Brent Burns was the only one who managed to do so, and he “wooed” at center ice to celebrate.
Anyway. By the time they got to the goal line, there was an added twist. Goalies could shoot at the open net 100-some-odd feet at the other end of the ice. Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby both took turns and neither were successful. But then Mike Smith stepped up and things suddenly got interesting. After Bo Horvat failed to score, Smith, the only representative of the Arizona Coyotes, showed off his impressive puck handling skills. The Canadian netminder made it look easy, flinging the rubber disc down center ice and through the 5-hole.
I think the reactions really make this whole thing.
Hardest Shot. This seems to be a crowd pleaser for many, but we all know that Shea Weber has the most powerful slap shot. In fact, the record (in the All-Star Game at least) is only bettered by Zdeno Chara, who is like 20 feet tall. As expected, Weber defended his title admirably and there was only one true surprise. In fact, outside of Weber and Patrik Laine, no one else came close or even broke triple digits.
There was one other moment that saved this from being a dumb waste of time and it’s mostly because Drew Doughty somehow beat Nathan MacKinnon. While the Colorado Avalanche center can fly, apparently he’s more of a finesse scorer than brute strength. In an interview, Doughty jokingly asked what it said about Mac that his (Doughty’s) shot was harder.
The Shootout. This is a dumb gimmick that does not belong in regular season NHL games and probably is best at home in the All-Star Game. Except this was so bad to watch. The goalies mostly did a competent job and the guys who did score managed to do so with some amazing moves. However, what was going on with the Western Conference was puzzling. Nearly every player tried to go stick side on Carey Price and they all failed. The only person who actually scored was mini-Ryan Kesler. Pandering shamelessly to the adorableness of tiny children in their fathers’ hockey jerseys, baby Kesler “deked” and scored on Price. It was cute and about the only thing that seemed to excite the crowd.
NO Breakaway Challenge. Hey look, the NHL decided to try something new. And that involved removing something fun! The Four Line Challenge is OK but this was so much better in the last couple of years, with P.K. Subban, Jaromir Jagr and Brent Burns showcasing not only their incredible talent, but also their amazing personalities.
This was sorely missed from this year’s skills competition.
Playing for Keeps. There were a lot of really great moments during the actual game itself. None of the players from the Central and Atlantic Divisions seemed to really want to be there. In fact, they mostly went through the motions and kind of took things how they came, which is fine. That’s part of the game, right? However, when the players from the Metropolitan Division took the ice, they seemed to play as if there were two points on the line. They cycled and backchecked and did almost everything except forechecking. Even Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky took this game very seriously and made some incredible saves.
After the 10 minute mark in the third game when the Pacific faced the Metro, fans had had enough and were starting to boo Metro players cycling. At that point, the game was still tied but the energy slowly started to seep out of the building and it started to feel like a real game, especially after the Metro went up by one. Now the Pacific was trying everything they could but sassy save after sassy save was made by the Washington Capitals’ tendy and he would not be denied victory.
Even John Tavares, the lone representative from the New York Islanders, blocked a shot in the dying seconds of the game. The defense just absolutely killed the buzz in the air. It felt so serious and that’s a huge bummer to wrap up what should be a fun weekend. If they were playing for an extra $90K in their pockets, that’s even sadder and says a lot about the NHL that these guys who all make millions of dollars each year would kill fun in order to win an extra $45K (it’s a bonus and that’s taxed at 50% in the state of California). But that’s the price to pay for a competitive All-Star Game.
Cartman. The much-loathed cartoon character from South Park made his All Star debut, which was awesome if only because it simultaneously annoyed and trolled all other fan bases who think Cartman is incredibly annoying and juvenile.
Fastest Skater; Relay; Accuracy Shooting. The fastest skater and the relay challenges were both entertaining as always. Connor McDavid came tantalizingly close to beating Dylan Larkin’s record set last year but just barely missed by a few tenths of a second. Although missing big names such as Daniel Sedin and Pavel Datsyuk, the relay had some close calls and I’m still convinced that skating around in a tiny circle three times is one day going to cause a player to vomit. Or at least get extremely nauseous. The most interesting match-up was Sidney Crosby versus Auston Matthews. Neither really came close to beating Sedin’s all time record (which is an utterly ridiculous like 7.3 seconds), but the two stars dazzled in a highly entertaining contest. Of course, with Los Angeles hosting the event, the primarily hometown fans held their breaths as Jeff Carter just barely edged out Patrick Kane to win a point for the Pacific.
Goals, goals and moar goals! I’m not going to lie: It was sweet hearing the Kings’ goal scoring song an absurd 10 times in 20 minutes. Heck, I’m not sure it wasn’t played an additional three times when the Central Division scored. I had to soak in the moment fully since we’re never guaranteed to hear that music very often.
Wayne Simmonds and Cam Atkinson. The focus was primarily on Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, who, remarkably, were actually healthy enough to attend this star studded event. However, injury-replacement Atkinson and eventual-MVP Simmonds made their presence felt during the game. Both men were all over the ice, scoring and generally wreaking havoc with their speed and offensive abilities.
Bonus: Joe Pavelski and Jeff Carter on a line. Fans of both teams were confused as to whether to boo or cheer but lemme tell ya something -- they were magically magnificent together. It doesn’t matter if it was the All Star Game, they were a lot of fun to watch. What’s great about this is unless either Dean Lombardi or Doug Wilson has an aneurism (not out of the realm of possibility given everything we know about these two general managers), we’ll likely never see Carter or Pavelski play together ever again. One is Canadian and the other is American so it’s highly unlikely they’d end up on a team again, even if it’s just a fun charity event.
Jeff Carter's stunning good looks freeze Devan Dubnyk, allowing Joe Pavelski to score the easiest goal of his life #NHLAllStar— #LAKings (@LAKings) January 29, 2017
The Weekend as a whole. Overall, it was an incredible atmosphere befitting a typical Hollywood party with performances from Carly Rae Jepsen, Nick Jonas and Snoop, and all the way down to the NHL royalty who put in an appearance. It was glamour, luxury and legendary all rolled into one killer event over the course of 48 hours.