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January 22, 2019
Not So Good
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Is it over yet?
The 2008 All-Star Skills Competition was about as entertaining as an episode of "According to Jim." But what it lacked in excitement, it made up for in length. It was long. L-o-ong. In the end, the winner was actually a runner from Kenya. Ken Burns has already started working on a 16-part documentary about it. I knew we were in for a long night when President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" after the fastest skater competition.
Going into the event, the league hyped the hell out of the new Breakaway Challenge that would have a panel of "celebrity" judges, and I use the term loosely, scoring the various breakaway attempts for creativity, much in the same fashion as the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. And copying the NBA has always worked wonders for the NHL. It led to expansion, generic division names, and Gary Bettman.
Anyway, if you were one of the lucky ones to miss it, here's a complete recap so you can share in the misery.
Three skaters and a goalie competed for each squad. The first guy had to stickhandle through a line of pucks. That's right, just a line of pucks. Exciting stuff. The second guy had to flip saucer passes over a barrier and into a net smaller than my liver. The third player had to rip one-timers at a target in the middle of the net. And finally, the goalie had to shoot pucks into the far goal. But don't worry; it really was as boring as it sounds.
Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton, Chris Pronger, and Chris Osgood were first up for the West. Sedin managed to navigate the pucks without trouble, which is impressive considering it was the first time in his life he had ever been more than five feet away from his brother. Daniel had to feel pretty bad about not being selected to the All-Star Game, but I'm sure he's cool with things now. At least he won't have the skills competition stink on him. Thornton landed one saucer pass in the net, Pronger hit the target once, and Osgood scored one goal. Yippee.
Jason Spezza, Marc Savard, Sergei Gonchar, and Tim Thomas were next. Spezza was perfect through the pucks, Savard found the Pang-sized net twice, Gonchar hit the target once, and Thomas scored one goal.
At least it was quick, right? Wrong. Time for round two. Round two? Who gave that the green light? Corey Perry handled the pucks, Pavel Datsyuk potted all four passes, Ed Jovanovski didn't touch the target, and Evgeni Nabokov scored one goal.
The East closed things out with Evgeni Malkin momentarily losing the biscuit before completing the slalom, Mike Richards completing one pass, Andrei Markov ripping the target three times, and Rick DiPietro scoring two goals. Even though the other goalies took their shots from the hash marks, DiPietro fired from the goal line. He's cool like that. Charles Wang was so impressed, he immediately extended DiPietro's contract for another 15 years.
The East got one point in the overall standings for winning the first round, while each team got a point for tying in the second round. The scoring system was almost as dumb as the event. You got two points for stickhandling through the pucks and only one point for every perfect pass, hit target, or goal. Shouldn't a goalie scoring twice from the other end of the ice be worth more than stickhandling in a straight line? Then again, shouldn't I give a damn? Since that answer is a resounding "no," let's move on.
Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell were up first. Keith beat Campbell by about five feet, but Campbell was still somehow declared the winner. I saw Keith win. The fans in Atlanta saw Keith win. Yet Campbell still got his hand raised. You know Donald Trump was pullin' some strings behind the scenes. Money talks.
In race two, Martin St. Louis edged Anze Kopitar. Heat three had Ilya Kovalchuk beating Shawn Horcoff. Or, you know, at least that's what happened in reality. But according to the NHL's kooky clocks, Horcoff won. Needless to say, this went over real well with the Atlanta faithful.
Horcoff went on to face Campbell in the finals. And really, that made perfect sense. After all, Campbell clearly lost to Keith and Horcoff lost of Kovalchuk, so by all means let them race for the title. Horcoff easily crushed Campbell, who looked like he was skating in toupee glue.
This whole thing made no sense. It was like racing in the Bizarro world. I have no idea how they were determining winners. The rules state it's the first player to cross the line, not the first stick. But again, I also must remind everyone that I really don't give a damn.
EVENT 3 – ELIMINATION SHOOTOUT
Another new event, this one was set up like the standard breakaway competitions you usually do at the end of practice. Miss, and you sit down. Score, and you keep on truckin' until only one man reigns supreme.
In round one, Rick Nash and Dion Phaneuf faced Tomas Vokoun, while Marian Hossa and Vincent Lecavalier challenged Nabokov. With everyone expecting Nash to bust out some funk after his goal against Phoenix, he calmly skated in off right wing and buried a wrist shot into Vokoun's pads. After breaking two panes of glass last week, Phaneuf skated in and phaked a slap shot, getting Vokoun to drop. The Phlame blueliner then made a sweet phorehand move phor the goal.
Hossa came in way too slow on Nabokov, who forced him wide with a poke-check and then stacked the pads for the save. Lecavalier tried to make it fun, cruising in on one skate and stickhandling like a chimp, but he lost the puck before he could even get a shot on the Sharks netminder.
The next group had Mike Ribeiro and Marian Gaborik against Rick DiPietro, and Scott Gomez and Evgeni Malkin against Chris Osgood. Ribeiro made a nice move to avoid a poke-check and tried to push a forehand back against the grain, but DiPietro kept his glove on the ice for the save. Gaborik went backhand, forehand, but his shot ticked DiPietro's right toe and hit the post.
Gomez and Malkin both abused Osbad. Gomez beat him low stick-side with a wrister. Malkin piped one over his glove.
The third and final group of the qualifying round had Corey Perry and Nicklas Lidstrom versus Timmy Thomas, while Eric Staal and Kimmo Timonen faced Manny Legace. Perry faked backhand and went forehand, ringing his shot off the post. Thomas was sharper on the second one, getting Lidstrom's wrister with his blocker. Staal tried Legace's blocker and found the pipe. Timonen had the best move of the first round, turning his skates to sell the backhand before tucking home a forehand shot.
So Phaneuf, Gomez, Malkin, and Timonen advanced to the second round. Phaneuf, the last hope for the West, led things off, beating Thomas with another sick forehand move. Best of all, Thomas got all Breakin' 2 Electric Boogaloo, spinning on his back like a drunken turtle.
Phaneuf's goal would stand up, as Legace shut the door on the three Eastern stars, saving his best stop to deny another nice forehand move from Timonen. After three events, I still didn't give a damn about the overall score.
The hockey was actually somewhat entertaining. Patrick Kane scored two sweet breakaway goals. And David Clarkson and Milan Lucic, two guys hardly known for their skill, also cashed in on breakaways. Lucic's was especially nice, rifling a wrister over Osgood's glove. And I took immense pleasure in seeing Osgood torched for six goals. Life without Lidstrom ain't no boat ride, huh, Chris?
Jason Arnott and Staal went 4-for-6. Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa went 4-for-7. Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer went 3-for-8. Daniel Alfredsson brought up the rear, hitting just two targets on eight shots.
As the top shooter in the West, Arnott faced Kaberle in the finals. They each went 3-for-4. That prompted a one-target finale. Arnott missed. Kaberle didn't. Overall, Kaberle finished 8-for-9. That's some mighty fine shootin'. He couldn't have done better with an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle.
WEST 1st 2nd EAST 1st 2nd Arnott 99.1 100.3 Ovechkin 98.3 95.6 Iginla 95.7 missed Lecavalier 101.9 98.6 Phaneuf 94.6 96.2 Markov 95.9 96.9 Pronger 99.5 99.7 Chara 101.4 103.1
EVENT 7 – BREAKAWAY CHALLENGE
Ah, the worst for last. This was a complete debacle. The idea was to encourage players to try a bunch of zany moves, hopefully producing something to be shown on SportsCenter and NHL highlight shows for years to come. Didn't happen.
The "celebrity" judges were Taylor Kitsch (he's very good), Bill Clement, Scott Mellanby, and Dominique Wilkins. Who canceled? Obviously, none of the four have even the slightest idea what it takes to score a highlight goal, but luckily no one really scored any, so it worked out beautifully.
Datsyuk was up first and basically did two standard breakaways against Vokoun, getting stoned on the first and scoring on the second. The goal was nice, but it was just a regular breakaway, nothing out of the ordinary. He must have missed the memo.
St. Louis was up next, and it looked like he wanted to pick up the puck and fling it lacrosse style, but Nabokov raced out and poke-checked him. On his second attempt, St. Louis turned backwards and appeared ready for a forehand move when Nabokov poke-checked him again. Nabby, take it down a notch, my friend. No one's tuning in to watch you poke-check dudes. At least let them make their move.
Getzlaf was third, and he did his best to make things interesting. On his first try, he pulled the puck behind him and kicked it up to his stick for a backhander, but Thomas made the save. It was still pimp smooth. Getzlaf skated in backwards on his second attempt, pulling the puck between his legs into a forehand move only to have Thomas stone him. Again, another swell effort.
Kovalchuk was fourth. Aw, this was gonna be good. Skating in front of his home fans, Kovalchuk raced in off right wing and. . . took a wrist shot. Yay. Legace either made the save or the shot died of boredom. Kovalchuk was slightly better on his second go, dropping to his knees and sliding to the net as he took his shot. Legace again made the save.
But Kovalchuk's effort reminded me of my buddy Todd Teacher, who's better known to LCS readers as Captain Justice. One time while playing street hockey, Todd had a breakaway and fell to the ground screaming, "Ow, my leg!" But it was just a ploy. The words were barely out of his mouth before he swatted the ball behind the startled netminder. Aw, that was great, that was fun.
Gaborik is one of the best breakaway artists in hockey, so he did what he could, streaking in on DiPietro and shooting the puck between his legs. DiPietro made the save. On his second attempt, Gaborik started skating from the other end, getting up to about Mach 3 before slamming on the brakes directly in front of DiPietro and showering him with snow. The distraction didn't work, and Gaborik was forced to swing behind the net and try a wraparound, but DiPietro got the puck with his left skate.
Ovechkin was the last shooter of the night. After beating Osgood with a routine backhand move on his first try, Ovechkin tried to juggle the puck twice and smack it out of the air but whiffed.
Since Getzlaf and Ovechkin had the top judges' scores, they advancd to the finals. Getzlaf attempted the ol' scoop, spin, and fling, but he fanned on the fling portion of the maneuver. It probably wouldn't have been as embarrassing if Versus didn't show a clip of like a six-year-old kid doing the same move earlier in the night.
Ovechkin tried his juggling act again, except this time he tapped it high into the air and spun around underneath it before swinging through it worse than a Pittsburgh Pirate cleanup hitter.
With the competition hanging in the balance, Getzlaf skated in and, well, did absolutely nothing. He just took a normal shot. It was shockingly pitiful.
Ovechkin closed things out by trying Gaborik's same between-the-legs shot. He didn't score either. But Ovechkin still earned enough style points to win things for the East. There was very little rejoicing.
Just to review, the East won because Ovechkin did a better job of not scoring than Getzlaf. Yeah, well done. Gee, I wonder why the NHL is considered such a joke? Only the NHL would celebrate a player for not scoring. It would be like Michael Jordan jumping from the foul line and getting stuffed by the front of the rim to win the dunk contest.
Getzlaf and Ovechkin should have kept going until someone scored.
Tomas Kaberle: Kaberle's sharpshooting was probably the highlight of the night. So that should give you some idea how dumb everything else was.
Zdeno Chara: It's always nice seeing Chara drop the hammer.
Vincent Lecavalier: Vinny's been dialing up the slapper all season, tormenting goaltenders with one-timers from all over the ice. His shot was just as impressive on the radar gun as it is during games.
Patrick Kane: Kane was great in the YoungStars Game, scoring on a pair of breakaways. His second one was a complete destruction of Vokoun, as he freaked him to the backhand before slipping a shot between his pads.
Manny Legace: Legace owned the YoungStars, allowing just one goal in his six minutes of action, and stopped six of seven breakaways on the evening. Not too shabby.
Anyone who sat through this monstrosity. The Obstacle Course Relay was terrible. The Fastest Skater was nonsensical. And the Breakaway Challenge was a complete disaster. It's just a shame Crosby got hurt, because you know Sid the Kid would have done something ridiculous like, you know, score.
It's worth noting that players were allowed to start their moves from anywhere in the offensive zone, but they all started from center. I kind of get the impression no one really knew what was going on. I'm guessing the league didn't do a good job of explaining things to the players. That's so unlike the NHL. I mean, they're usually right on top of things. Hey, maybe next year they can remind me not to watch.