9:41 PM ET
LAS VEGAS — The NHL All-Star Game took over Las Vegas this weekend, producing memorable moments, incredible sights and in the biggest surprise, some close, compelling 3-on-3 hockey games.
Here are 10 takeaways from Friday’s skills competitions and Saturday’s All-Star Game, which the Metropolitan Division won with Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux getting MVP honors.
The Vegas of it all
Las Vegas was an ideal site for the NHL All-Star Game. It was a winner logistically, environmentally and most of all for the vibe.
“I think it’s great for the game. Just coming into this rink, coming into this city, there’s a buzz and I think all of the guys felt it. The NHL put on a great event and I’m looking forward to seeing many more events held here in the future,” said the Washington Capitals‘ Tom Wilson.
But what really made Vegas an ideal place for the All-Star Game was as a source of inspiration for innovation. The NHL held its first two outdoor skills competition events — taping them for broadcast — because Vegas offered incredible opportunities like a “blackjack” shootout on a closed-down Las Vegas Boulevard and a shooting accuracy competition in the fountains of the Bellagio.
It inspired Chicago Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat to take part in a homage to “The Hangover” in the Breakaway Challenge while Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr passed him a football to score with. It inspired New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes to think about things that were “Vegas-y” for his attempt, settling on a magician’s trick.
It was a great advertisement for the city, and an even better endorsement for Vegas as a hockey town.
“People visit Vegas quite often. But maybe it’s someone’s first time, and they get to see what Vegas brings and what we bring as an organization,” said Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “I think people that haven’t been to a game here can see the experience, even in this small sample size.”
The Hangover, Part 4
The All-Star Game has been notorious through the years as an event where players who enjoyed themselves a bit too much socially after the skills competition may not always bring their ‘A-game’ to the midseason classic on the following day.
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Combine that tradition with the location of the 2022 All-Star Game — the city that gave the NHL the “Vegas Flu” as an excuse for the Golden Knights’ home-ice success — and the potential for some rough skating was there.
Turns out, not even the Golden Knights were impervious to this. The Pacific Division started a Knights-only trio of defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and forwards Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault. They surrendered a goal to the Metro Division 13 seconds into their semifinal game.
“Devastating loss,” joked Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer. “We got off to a little bit of a slow start. That was probably due to late-night Vegas activities last night.”
But DeBoer wasn’t impervious, either. When asked for his thoughts about the magicians and other entertainers that performed during the All-Star Game, he was candid in his response.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m a little hungover today,” he said.
The NHL All-Star Game always offers the chance to see opponents suddenly become teammates and, quite often, linemates.
Like on the Metropolitan team, when the New York Rangers‘ Chris Kreider, the New York Islanders‘ Adam Pelech and the New Jersey Devils’ Jack Hughes played as a unit.
“It was definitely weird,” said Hughes.
Kreider had played with Hughes before when the Devils star was a 17-year-old at the world championships.
“I gave him a hard time [tonight] because I had a screen a couple of times and he wouldn’t shoot the puck,” said Kreider. “He’s a great kid. Ton of energy.”
Sometimes, the novelty is in great defensive players getting a chance to skate with offensive stars they’d otherwise be tasked to shut down. Like Golden Knights winger Mark Stone playing on a line with Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl on the Pacific team.
“Yeah, it was pretty cool. He was one of the guys I wanted to get at least one shift with. We had some pretty nice players on our team,” said Stone.
But mostly, the All-Star Game is a time for fierce rivals to put their animosity on hold for the greater good: Like with Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jake Guentzel skating with Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux.
“It’s funny: Tomorrow, they’re going to be hating each other again. But today, they were professional and had a job to do,” said their coach Rod Brind’Amour.
Sometimes, the fact that the All-Star Game even has rules can seem a little absurd. Should there be offsides in a 3-on-3 pond hockey game? Probably not. But that absurdity reaches its apex when one considers that there are video reviews for offside calls during the All-Star Game. Two of them happened and were significant.
A goal by Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor was wiped out by a video review in the Central Division’s semifinal game against the Atlantic. In the finale, it appeared that the Central Division had cut the deficit to one goal when DeBrincat scored with 1:51 remaining with their goalie pulled. But the play was ruled offside, and the Central lost in the final by two goals.
There was also a video review of a Connor goal that was missed on the ice. It was a significant turn of events in the semifinal: Instead of a 4-3 lead for the Atlantic, a goal by Victor Hedman was taken off the board when it was found Connor scored, giving the Central a 4-3 lead instead.
“I probably had more tonight than I’ve had during the season,” said Connor. “I get it. We’re all joking about, but everyone wants to win. It’s competitive.”
For the record: The NHL initiates the video reviews in the All-Star Game.
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin had to pull out of the All-Star Weekend after entering the NHL COVID-19 protocols on Tuesday, missing their game against Edmonton on Wednesday.
Replacing him was teammate Tom Wilson, beloved by Capitals fans and Public Enemy No. 1 for most of the NHL’s other fan bases, thanks to his physical play and opponent agitation. This was evident at the All-Star Skills Competition:
Nailed it, @tom_wilso. ?? pic.twitter.com/ZIkBL2EnUy
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 5, 2022
This was also evident when he was introduced before Saturday’s All-Star Game. And whenever anyone in a Wilson jersey was on the Jumbotron. And when his name was announced as a scorer during the game.
“The guys seemed to have a chuckle out of it,” said Wilson.
Vegas fans have loathed Wilson since the Capitals defeated the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup in 2018. In true Tom Wilson fashion, he scored the first goal in the All-Star Game, en route to eliminating a Pacific Division team that had three Golden Knights players and their coach on it. It was set up by his teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Capitals.
“I knew Kuzy would be looking to get me on the board. It was just a great experience. The passion and the fun behind the boos, and then to win this thing was pretty fun,” said Wilson.
Kuznetsov told Brind’Amour that he was going to win the opening faceoff and produce a goal.
“It was very important to get [Wilson] on the board. So they can boo him again, you know?” said Kuznetsov, with a laugh.
Ovechkin wasn’t in Vegas, but the spirit of Ovi was felt at the event.
Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild did a full Ovechkin homage in his Breakaway Challenge attempt, taking off his sweater to reveal an Ovechkin jersey. After scoring, he mimicked the Capitals captain’s “hot stick” celebration that he performed after scoring his 50th goal in the 2008-09 season. Ovechkin’s review on Twitter: “Not bad!”
On Saturday, the Capitals tweeted out a photo of a stick autographed to Ovechkin’s son Sergei by Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid that read “to my friend Ovi Jr.”
“We were just in Washington before, and Ovi had asked me to sign a stick for him. Any time that Ovi asks something, it gets done,” said McDavid.
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Kuznetsov, a member of the Metropolitan Division All-Stars, said his friend Ovechkin was bummed to miss the event.
“He was talking about this All-Star Game and how much he wanted to come. He likes this city. He likes these types of moments. For him, it’s always big. So he’s a little down,” he said.
“Just so you know, guys, he really does worry about this stuff,” Kuznetsov continued. “He’s the guy that likes these type of days, you know?”
Connor McDavid’s rough trip
The biggest star at the All-Star Game didn’t exactly shine as brightly as expected. McDavid didn’t have a point in the Pacific Division’s loss to the Metropolitan Division in the semifinals, one of only two players that didn’t score in that game (Adrian Kempe of the Los Angeles Kings being the other). McDavid was also stopped on a breakaway attempt during the game.
On Friday night, he fell short of setting the NHL record for most wins in the fastest skater skills competition for the second straight All-Star Game. McDavid finished behind St. Louis Blues forward Jordan Kyrou, who won the event, and two others.
Chris Johnston of the Toronto Star reported that there were some rumors leading up the event that McDavid might not participate in the All-Star Weekend, perhaps nursing a minor injury. The were fueled by Vegas Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault being added to the Pacific Division roster. McDavid didn’t really address whether there was a decision he had to make, but obviously he managed to take part in the weekend.
Giroux, Avs, Panthers rule Media Day
Two of the biggest topics of conversation at the player media availability were Claude Giroux, the Florida Panthers and the Colorado Avalanche.
Separately. Although who knows what the trade deadline holds …
Giroux is in the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, who currently have a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs, per Money Puck. He controls his future with a full no-movement clause, and said that future has been on his mind.
“We went through a stage where we had a hard time winning a hockey game. Now we’re at a point where we’re playing some good hockey. We lost our coaches. Got new ones. We lost a lot of guys through injuries and COVID. It hasn’t been that fun,” he said. “There’s a lot of time left. That’s all I have for you right now. A lot of hockey left. For us, it’s going to be a longshot. But I’ve seen crazier things.”
Metro Division captain Claude Giroux had his teammates fired up for the All-Star Game, and they emerged as the champs. Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images
Meanwhile, Giroux was soaking in the All-Star experience, taking over as captain of the Metro team after Ovechkin had to miss the event. “Good or bad during the season, when you come here you usually have your friends and family. I’ve got my two-and-a-half year-old son here, so I get to spend time with him,” he said.
Meanwhile, several players and coaches were asked about the Panthers and Avalanche, who are tied for the NHL lead in goals per game (4.09).
“We want to be as close to perfect as we can,” said Avalanche center Nazem Kadri.
How close to perfect have they been for the last month?
“Close. But I think through all the winning we’ve had, we can continue to get better. And I don’t think we’ve been at our best,” he said.
Meanwhile, Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour put over the Florida Panthers as a contender like few have this season.
“That’s the juggernaut team for me,” said Brind’Amour. “They’re hitting it now. That management team’s done a great job in how they’ve assembled that team. There are no weaknesses. They play to their identity. You’re going to get a high-octane team. You gotta be on your toes or they’re going to make you pay. A fun team to watch. Not so much to play against.”
The star of the weekend
He loves Zambonis @RealStamkos91 #NHLAllStarGame @953WDAE @BecklesRecher #GoBolts @TBLightning pic.twitter.com/2orErAYtDU
— Jay Recher (@jayRecher) February 5, 2022
One of the joyous aspects of All-Star Weekend is seeing the players get to spend some time with their families during a break in the season.
Giroux said sharing his Vegas adventure with his oldest son Gavin meant everything to him. Joe Pavelski brought his son Nate out to shoot pucks at the blackjack playing cards after winning that event.
But the biggest collection of “awwwws” came during the media availability for Tampa Bay Lightning players, when Carter Stamkos, the young son of captain Steven Stamkos, spent the first minute of his interview declaring that he wanted to see the Zamboni.
“I might have to go to see the Zamboni,” Stamkos told reporters.
Finally, the Metro cared
The winner of the NHL’s 3-on-3 All-Star Game tournament is usually the divisional team that takes it the most seriously. On Saturday night, that team was undoubtedly the Metropolitan Division, which won the $1 million prize.
Kadri was surprised by how strong the Metro Division came out in the finale.
“It got real at the start of the final game. They turned it on a little bit. Maybe played a little more defense than we were used to in the first game,” he said.
Giroux said his team was engaged.
“On the bench, we had a blast today. Everybody was having a good time. Guys were yelling to play defense and win battles and block shots. We just had fun today,” said the All-Star Game MVP.
Wilson credited Giroux with motivating the team. “Kuzy and I were doing shutdown defense in the second period there. Hard strides, hard changes. Doing the right things. Our group, with [Giroux] as our captain, said let’s go out there and try to win it. And we did,” he said.
If the MVP wasn’t Giroux, it was probably Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry, who stopped 14 of 15 shots in the championship final against the Central Division.
“Tons of great saves at the end,” said Brind’Amour. “I had a great spot, standing behind the guys and hearing how excited they were getting. It was a fun day.”
Kuznetsov said that rather than Giroux, it was Brind’Amour that lit a fire under them. “He’s actually the guy that got us going. I like that type of style,” he said.
The coach returned the sentiment to the Capitals forward.
“The guy that kinda shocked me the most was Kuznetsov. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy. But he said he was going to go out and score on the first shift, and he did. And then the next game, he did. I was like, ‘This is pretty impressive to call your own shot.’ But he worked hard. He was chirping on the guys,” said Brind’Amour. “They wanted to win.”
And they did.
Source: ESPN NHL