No hits, but plenty of goals in NHL All-Star game
Penalty shots outnumbered hits in the NHL All-Star game Sunday, which says all you need to know about staging hockey’s annual celebration without the physicality that gives the sport its zest.
“I just wanted to not get scored on too often,” said goaltender Jonas Hiller of the Ducks and Team Lidstrom, which rallied from an early four-goal deficit against a team captained by Eric Staal of the hometown Carolina Hurricanes and held on for an 11-10 victory at the RBC Center.
Hiller’s goal was lofty in a penalty-free, no-hit shinny festival that was the fourth-highest-scoring game in All-Star history. It also featured the first penalty shot in All-Star game history — awarded to but not converted by Matt Duchene of Colorado and Team Lidstrom after Alexander Ovechkin threw his stick at the puck to stop Duchene on a breakaway — and no physical contact. At all.
That was a big adjustment for most players, who seemed to be skating at half-speed much of the time.
“I always enjoy being physical out there and hitting guys and it was a little tough to lay off that, but it’s fun,” said Nashville and Team Lidstrom defenseman Shea Weber, a standout with four assists and a plus-six defensive rating. “I think it’s good for the fans.”
This also was the first time players were assigned to teams through a fantasy draft instead of by geography or by nationality, a noble effort by the league and its players to spice up an outmoded concept.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to change the format, but the fact that they did seemed to have generated a lot of interest,” said Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, who was not among the 100 players on the All-Star ballot but was voted the most valuable player for his one-goal, two-assist performance. “I know I had fun with it.”
The MVP award and car easily could have gone to Kings center Anze Kopitar, who began Team Lidstrom’s comeback with a nifty backhand shot and scored the fifth goal off a two-on-none with Loui Eriksson. Or to wondrous defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, whose plus-seven rating was a dramatic change from his minus-three rating with the Detroit Red Wings this season.
“Everything was so relaxed. It was nice to play a game like that where you don’t have to worry about too much,” said Kopitar, who was on the losing team in his All-Star debut in 2008. “Obviously, you want to win the game, but the score being 11-10 makes it a little more fun. I don’t think the first thing that came on my mind was backchecking and stuff.”
Hiller would have been a reasonable MVP. He faced 17 shots in the second period, much like his workload behind the Ducks’ early-season porous defense. He stopped 15 shots — two by Ducks teammate Corey Perry — and handed a 7-6 lead to Boston’s Tim Thomas, who became the first goalie to win three consecutive All-Star games.
“I’ve seen more shots, actually, than we gave up today,” Hiller said. “It feels like summer hockey again. Like you’re playing 10 on 10. Sure, it wasn’t the most fun for the goalies, but it was still a great experience.”
So what if the highest-impact collision in the game was between the puck and his mask?
“I was hoping to not get hit in the head this weekend, but they got me twice in 20 minutes,” he said, grinning. “It didn’t go in, so I was all right. It definitely woke me up.”
It’s too early to say whether this format will be repeated, tweaked or abandoned. Lidstrom seemed to like it.
“I think it made it more of an exciting weekend where everybody’s anticipating the draft and what’s going to happen and who’s going to get picked first and who’s going to be the last guy picked, and everything around the draft I think created a lot of hype for it,” he said. “I think the league is happy with that and the players’ association as well. I’m sure they’re going to go over everything and look at it, but I thought it was a successful weekend for us.”
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