January 25, 2009
MONTREAL -- We talk about the NHL All-Star Game as being disposable and superfluous and a complete waste of time. And then you talk to someone like Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils, playing in his first all-star game and finding himself skating on the same line as offensive dynamos Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Oh my gosh, it was unbelievable. I guess I was the lucky one to get put on their line tonight. They make the game pretty easy," he said, talking with the enthusiasm of kid who just purchased his first sports car. "On that first shift, you see the behind-the-back plays ... they know where you are on the ice and you're not even expecting the puck, and suddenly it's on your tape."
Sure enough, Parise was able to score his first all-star goal on a helper from St. Louis in the second period tonight in Montreal.
As a whole, there's no question the all-star game is still a passive, inconsistent muddle with brief flashes of brilliance. That's the sum; the parts that added up to this 12-11 Eastern Conference shootout victory were, at times, exceptional and extraordinary.
1. The flow of the game improved from what was a snoozer of a first period in which the Western Conference was audibly snoring at times. That's because it was an all-star game: passionless, disjointed, with stretches of barely passable hockey. But the overtime was a kick, especially when Mike Komisarek took a hooking penalty -- the first since 2000! -- and the crowd started chanting "defense" to egg on the East. The highlights:
2. What the all-star game needs are more power plays, which would afford us a chance to see these guys whip the puck around for spectacular chances. The problem is that there's no defense, which means there's no hitting or obstruction, which means there are hardly ever calls. So the officials probably just need to get creative. "Two minutes for having a beard, Joe Thornton!" "Two minutes for not pronouncing it 'toes,' Jonathan!"
3. Alexei Kovalev and Alexander Ovechkin scored in the shootout against Roberto Luongo to give the Eastern Conference the 12-11 victory, and the fans left happy. If you read this blog, you know our vehement disdain of the shootout in the NHL regular season. But in a meaningless exhibition, a.k.a. all-star weekend ... hell, shootout until there's nothing left to shoot. Just don't go pretending it has anything to do with actual hockey, or justifying its existence as a way to determine postseason status with a gimmick that isn't found in the playoffs.
4. Once again, Ovechkin provided the highlight of the night in the arena, and it had nothing to do with hockey ... even if it had a little something to do with scoring.
The camera focused on some buxom blondes in the stands wearing pink all-star shirts, who soon noticed their appearance on the hi-def Jumbotron and started with the sexy dancing. The camera quickly cut to Ovechkin, who had the "my gawd it's teh hot!!!" expression going, before quickly realizing his oh-face was being viewed by 21,000 fans. Much laughter ensued.
"I didn't think the camera was going to look straight at me," he said after the game, adding that he wasn't embarrassed. Did he feel they were good-looking ladies? "I don't know, I'd have to see them live. They were dancing pretty well."
5. The work on Ovechkin's first goal was really something special. He cut into the slot, dished to Marc Savard in the corner, and then Savard sent it back to him like a pass in the shot accuracy competition before Ovechkin scored into a practically empty net.
6. Finally on Ovechkin: His BFF Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins was having too much fun out there, skating with Eric Staal and Alexei Kovalev. He tried three times to send an aerial pass over the back of J.S. Giguere in the first period. He scored a nifty between the legs goal against Nik Backstrom in the second; later in the period, he and Kovalev juggled the puck on their sticks in the offensive zone like some abbreviated trick-shot competition. The East was way more into the spirit of this thing than the West.
7. One of the few near moments of defense in the contest: Rick Nash outraced Zdeno Chara for a puck and then deposited it behind Lundqvist in the second period. This is the part where we mention how much incredible talent Nash has, but that an entire career without a playoff game has kept it fairly anonymous.
8. And Lauren Holly was at the game! Looking just as lovely as the day Harry hit her in the face with a snowball in "Dumb and Dumber."
9. Montreal kept bringing out its legends during the game for its centennial celebration, playing maudlin music while guys like Henri Richard waved to the crowd. Each time, they'd appear in a sports coat, standing in a different exit in the 100 level, accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of making some of the greatest players in hockey history look like arena ushers.
10. Very nice ovation from the Habs faithful for former head coach Claude Julien, now leading the hated Boston Bruins to the top of the conference. Of course, the ovation can correctly be labeled "nice" if you heard the awesome decibels the announcement of Guy Carbonneau's received, followed by chants of "Guy!"
11. Speaking of Habs coaches current and former: Tremendous job by the Bell Centre to toss up a "Get Well Pat Burns" message on the scoreboard.
12. Were we the only ones that had this hallucination before the game? Canadian mushrooms are wicked ...
13. This was the second-highest scoring game in all-star history, trailing only the 2001 affair in Colorado that ended 14-12 in favor of (yuck) North America.
14. The game did set a record for most goals in one period, as the East and West combined for 10 in the second.
15. By the way: 22 goals in regulation, with only 12 secondary assists handed out. I don't want to say this was a game for puck hogs, but ...
16. And David Boreanaz was at the game! And Michael Rosenbaum and the usual famous-for-the-NHL celebrities that would have judged the trick-shot if the fans didn't vote on it.
17. Sheldon Souray and Zdeno Chara could probably put a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum with their slap shots ... but not in the all-star game. "Nobody's really shooting slap shots," said Chara. "We all want to get through the game."
18. Fun Fact: Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild gave up more goals in the second period than he has in 35 of his 39 games this season. In fairness, he also absolutely robbed Martin St. Louis by going left to right on a quick shot.
19. Then again, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers has given up six goals in a game (let alone a period, as he did tonight) four times in the last two seasons. But even he had a robbery: stonewalling Patrick Kane from in front on a nice play.
20. In better goaltending news, Tim Thomas became the fifth keeper in all-star history to post wins in consecutive games.
21. A pane of glass was shattered during warm-ups, but the Bell Centre arena crew knows what they're doing. Because if they didn't, I think we would have all been a tad more concerned about Simple Plan jumping up and down on a stage suspended above the ice as the Zamboni drove underneath it. That was a Faces of Death moment ready to happen.
22. The singer of the U.S. National Anthem had on a pink Obama shirt featuring the first family. What, was this considered too casual?
23. Sidney Crosby made his "please don't suspend me" all-star appearance, appearing at the players' entrance and receiving a very loud ovation from the crowd. So no hard feelings from the fans for skipping the competitions this weekend.
24. Soon after, it was the highly anticipated Vincent Lecavalier intro, and it was just as deafening as the previous night. Again, it's hard to figure out the Habs fans. In this arena, it seemed nearly unanimous that they'd love Lecavalier wearing the home colors. But mention what they might have to give up, and suddenly they're concerned about everything from Vinny's front-loaded contract to the NHL potential of P.K. Subban. It's like geeking out over a luxury car before dying of sticker shock.
25. I don't want to say fans were completely piss-bored as of the third period, but they started the wave. THE WAVE ...
26. Mike Modano had a brutally honest interview before the overtime, telling CBC that he hoped someone would win it quickly so they could have a day off on Monday. Party pooping old man.
27. It was a hell of a weekend for Kovalev: voted in by the fans, first Russian captain in the all-star game, the definitive goal in the shootout in front of his Montreal Canadiens faithful. Kovalev was the fifth Canadiens player to win all-star MVP, joining Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Peter Mahovlich and Mark Recchi. He said he plans to auction off the 2009 Honda Ridgeline EX-L SR he received for charity.
28. Great line by Julien after the game, in regards to any strategy for he and Guy Carbonneau in picking shootout participants: "We had talked about it before the game, and I told Guy, ‘If we win, I put the lines together; if we lose, it was your job.' And it was the same thing with the shootout. I picked them, and not Guy, but if we would have lost, it would have been Guy's picks."
29. I'm pretty sure at this point in his commissionership, Gary Bettman actually feeds off of booing, like Freddy Kruger grew stronger when teenagers feared him.
30. Finally, please make this part of your annual playoff and/or all-star game viewing ritual: take a shot every time you hear, "Hockey's greatest tradition ... the handshake." Because we heard it again tonight on CBC, at least.