Masochistic goalies ready for cruelty of NHL All-Star Game

Masochistic goalies ready for cruelty of NHL All-Star Game

NASHVILLE – In the rest of the NHL season, they’re the most valuable players on the ice. The difference between victory and defeat. Able to will mediocre teams into contention by their sheer talent and dominance.

But at the NHL All-Star Game, goaltenders are props.

They're co-stars. Hell, maybe even extras.

They’re pylons in a relay race. They’re human cutouts placed in front of a goal, window dressing for offensive stars to give the people what they paid to see.

“I think, as a fan, I’d rather watch the guys try to score than the goalies,” said Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, playing in his first All-Star Game. “We just try to survive.”

Survival is a common word used by All-Star Game goalies, and for good reason. Since 2008, there has been an average of 21.67 goals per All-Star Game. During the 1970s -- when many crusty veteran writers cherished watching All-Star Games of relevance --  the average total goals were 8.00.

In last season’s game in Columbus, Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks led all goaltenders with a .778 save percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins had a .562 save percentage, giving up seven goals on 16 shots. “It was tough,” said Fleury.

That’s not even mentioning the NHL Skills Competition, in which goaltenders are the sports equivalent of political spouses: Be quiet, wave to the crowd and do everything you can to make the main attraction look good.

“I enjoy the skills competition a lot. But I like watching it at home rather than playing in it,” joked Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers.

So what’s in it for the goalies? Can the NHL do something to make it better for them?

Like, perhaps, adding some goalie skills competitions?

“That sounds embarrassing,” said Holtby.

The goalies do take part in one event: The NHL Skills Challenge Relay, that multi-part “race” that involves puck-handling, passing and shooting pucks into little nets. The goalies have to shoot the puck from one end, over a small barrier and into the opposite net. (And they don’t even win a car or anything like some fans do in between-periods contests.)

But should they do more? If they can fire a puck down-ice, what about putting goalies in the shot accuracy competition?

“I wouldn’t mind standing out there and hitting those plates. I don’t know if I’ll hit many of them. You guys see how I handle the puck,” said Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils.

“Maybe fastest skater?”

They tried that, actually

“They did?” asked Schneider.

Yes, they did. A few times, in fact. Like in 2012, when Jonathan Quick joked that the only reason he was in the event was because of his last name:

Goalie races are really fun. Except for the goalies.

“Stopping a puck? I’m in. Skating? Not so much,” said Luongo.

Schneider and Luongo said they actually competed against each other in a Vancouver Canucks skills competition, in which they grabbed players’ sticks and battled in a hardest-shot contest.

“I don’t think I’d do the hardest shot,” said Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, “but I could maybe do a couple of breakaways.”

Goalies in the shootout challenge, shooting on skaters? That would be interesting.

When it comes to the All-Star Game itself, Bishop said this year’s 3-on-3 mini-tournament format might actually put the spotlight on the netminders for once.

“The players are going to have a couple of goals here or there, but I think you’re going to see some big saves in a 3-on-3 format. It’ll let the goalies showcase a little bit more than in the 5-on-5, where it seemed like there were a lot more backdoor plays and stuff. Not as many big saves,” he said.

“Hopefully one of [the pucks] will hit us now and again.”

It’s a salient point: The goalies will have much more lateral movement and many more acrobatic save opportunities in facing a constant stream of odd-man rushes. Which for a guy like Bishop means a chance to hit the highlight reel, and for other goalies means a creeping sense of dread over facing a constant stream of odd-man rushes.

“I haven’t thought too much about the game. It’s the last thing I’m thinking about, to be honest with you,” said Schneider. “Maybe you’ll see some two-pad stacks. Maybe some poke checks. But maybe the guys won’t appreciate the poke checks. I’ll leave those out.”

Whatever it takes to survive the cruelty of the All-Star Game for goalies.

“Thank god it’s only 10, possibly 20 minutes,” said Holtby. “I haven’t told my teammates yet, but I don’t have a very good record in All-Star Games.”

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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.