NHL players baffled by new skills competition event

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LOS ANGELES – There’s a new event at the NHL All-Star Weekend skills competition on Saturday night.

“There are a lot of new events every year and guys get confused,” said New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall.

It’s called “The Four-Line Challenge.” There are four shooters from each divisional NHL All-Star team. One shoots from the near blue line, one from the center red line, one from the far blue line and then one the opposite goal line. They each take two shots at the net, which will have different areas for the pucks to target.

“What do the targets look like, I don’t even know?” asked San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns. “Is it like the accuracy shooting targets?”

No, it’s more like a piece of cardboard with holes in the corners and also the five-hole. Shots from the near blue line target the top corners; the red line shots target all four corners; the opposite blue line shots try to score in the corners or in the five hole; and then the opposite goal-line shots target the five hole. The location of each shot carries a different amount of points for the team.

Burns let out a “woo!” that was equal parts exasperation and astonishment. “That’s aggressive, eh?”

Well, yeah, and there’s some concern it could be a train-wreck, or it could end up being something spectacular that shows the incredible skill of these NHL All-Star players.

“Probably harder than you think. We do it every once in a while in practice, in order to get off the ice. I think I’ve done it once, and I missed. If you get in your rhythm early, it’s going to help. If you start missing, the panic is going to start creeping in,” said Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.

Hall said there are certain considerations you have to make about the puck when you’re shooting long distance. “It’s funny. If you shoot the puck from one end to the other, you see how much it spins, depending on your curve. That’s something you have to take into account, almost like a slice in golf,” he said.

The players will be briefed about the event before Saturday night’s skills competition, clearing up any confusion on the rules. That includes one important wrinkle: Captains can substitute the fourth shooter with a goalie, and a successful shot by a goalie is awarded 20 points for their team. (Also, the first All-Star to score two goals in the five hole from the far goal line will win the new 2017 Honda CRV.)

“We’ll have Smitty doing that, eh?” said Burns, in reference to his Pacific Division rival Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes. “Best puck-handling goalie. Handles it better than most of the ‘D’.”

Mostly, the players in the event are looking forward to it. “It’s not that easy actually. A couple of times at practice I’ve thrown the pucks at it. But it’s going to be fun. Something new. Everybody’s going to laugh, and have smiles on their faces,” said winger Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s a little about challenging their own skills, it’s a little about battling their peers … and it’s a lot about not looking like an idiot.

“I think it’s more that you don’t want to be embarrassed on TV,” said Hall.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.