Malkin, Ovechkin put feud to rest
MONTREAL — Some feud.
Russian superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin teamed up to the delight of the Bell Centre crowd and both were winners in the NHL's All-Star SuperSkills competition Saturday night.
Ovechkin successfully defended his breakaway challenge title as the evening's six events were conducted independently of one another, unlike previous years that featured an overall title contested by the two conferences.
The high-scoring Washington left wing played to the crowd — with a huge assist from Pittsburgh's Malkin — and garnered 42.8 percent of the fan voting via text messages.
Malkin claimed the shooting accuracy title, hitting three of four targets in a playoff with Ottawa's Dany Heatley after both nailed all four targets in four shots in the opening round.
Boston captain Zdeno Chara broke Al Iafrate's 16-year-old hardest shot record with a blistering 105.4 mph slap shot on the final attempt of the event.
Phoenix's Shane Doan scored on four of six penalty shot attempts to outlast Boston's Marc Savard in the elimination shootout finale that featured all 36 skaters taking turns against goalies Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota, the Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Boston's Tim Thomas.
Montreal's Carey Price and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, who both recently returned from injuries, did not take part in the elimination shootout.
Nashville defenseman Shea Weber drove a 103.3 mph shot that looked as if it might hold up after Chara hit 103.3 mph on his first attempt.
The 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman drew an ovation from the crowd of 21,273 after he broke Iafrate's record of 105.2 set at the Montreal Forum in 1993.
Ovechkin scored points from the get-go as the last of the six contestants in the breakaway competition, waving his hand at the crowd to draw the fans' support.
In a nod to his supposed feud with Malkin, Ovechkin skated over to his East teammates before his final attempt.
Malkin helped him put on an outback hat — with a Canadian flag stuck to the brim — and white-framed wraparound sunglasses before pouring a sports drink down Ovechkin's throat.
Ovechkin, a right-handed shot, took Malkin's left-handed stick before driving in while stickhandling the puck with both sticks.
Ovechkin tossed his own stick into the right corner before taking a left-handed shot, which was stopped before he slapped it home with a second effort.
He then skated over to the left side boards and tossed the hat and the sunglasses into the crowd.
Boston rookie Blake Wheeler was awarded the YoungStars game MVP after scoring four goals to lead the rookies to a 9-5 victory over the sophomores.
Wish you were here
Count Ovechkin among those who are missing Sidney Crosby at All-Star weekend.
For the second consecutive year an injury sustained shortly before the midseason festivities knocked out Crosby, the NHL's most familiar face. The Penguins' captain was forced to skip the 2008 game in Atlanta because of a high ankle sprain. A balky knee wrecked his plans this year, denying fans the opportunity to see the NHL's two most recent regular-season MVPs playing together.
"It's the second time in a row," said Ovechkin, who edged Crosby for rookie of the year honors in 2006. "I think he wants to be here, but it is what it is. You can't play when you're injured.
"It's too bad. He is a great player, and to play against him is a big pleasure. To be able to play with him on the same team would be pretty cool."
Jarome Iginla didn't pull any punches when the topic of fighting came up. The Calgary Flames captain said the one-on-one on-ice combat is a necessary part of hockey, and eliminating it would cause more dangerous situations.
"It's a very physical and a very intense game. There would be more stickwork, absolutely," Iginla said Saturday after an All-Star practice. "I think it does help police (the game). You're a lot more responsible for what you're doing out there as far as dirty hits and stickwork and stuff.
"If you know that fighting is there, that there is that threat of it, you have to back up what you're doing."
As is the case from time to time, the debate over fighting in hockey is raging hot again. The death of a Canadian senior amateur player and a seizure by an AHL combatant during bouts has raised the question if the act of dropping the gloves has outlasted its purpose.
Players are bigger and stronger than ever before, and part of the code of fighting is the removal of helmets at the start to protect their hands. Don Anderson, a 21-year-old Whitby Dunlops defenseman hit his head on the ice after losing his helmet while fighting Dec. 12 in an Ontario Hockey Association game, and died on Jan. 2.
Garrett Klotz was taken off the ice on a stretcher Friday night after having a seizure during a bloody fight in the opening seconds of the Philadelphia Phantoms' 2-1 victory over Manchester. He was discharged from the hospital Saturday.
"I do think that fighting does have a place in the game," said Iginla, who has three fights this season and 49 in his NHL career according to the Web site hockeyfights.com . "I can see some of the benefits of keeping your helmet on before a fight. I have taken it off a lot in the past and I've definitely thought about it more.
"It's always been a mutual thing to save each other's hands, but our heads are a lot more important than that."
Stars sit out
Although a few players, including Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk of the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, have stayed home from the All-Star game to nurse injuries, those who did make it to Montreal don't view the absences as a rampant problem.
However, the reality remains that if more and more players look to avoid the weekend, the event will suffer. Fans want to see the best of the best on display.
"Lidstrom has been here like a ton," San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "The big picture is we all want to win the Stanley Cup. We are responsible to our teams to be the best that we can. If those guys need days off, they should take
"Never say never, but I can't see that ever happening where a bunch of guys would say no. It's still an honor to be here."
Family bragging rights are up for grabs between cousins Carey Price, the Eastern Conference starting goalie, and Phoenix captain Shane Doan, the Coyotes' representative on the Western Conference team.
"It's going to be fun," Doan said. "He's beaten me twice so hopefully the third time's going to be the charm."
The second game Doan referred to was Phoenix's 4-1 loss in Montreal on Oct. 18.
Reminded that his older cousin scored midway through the third to ruin his shutout bid, Price joked, "it's on!"
"I've always watched him," Price said. "He's always been the star of the family and now I actually get an opportunity to play with him in something like this. It's almost surreal."
Austria and Switzerland have a rooting interest in the Eastern Conference team's performance this weekend. Buffalo's Thomas Vanek and New York Islanders defenseman Mark Streit are their respective countries' first All-Star participants.
"Growing up in Austria, the all-star game was never even in my dreams," Vanek said. "My dream was playing in the NHL and I never dreamt bigger than that, which is the all-star game for a lot of European guys. For me to be here right now, it's surreal."
Streit left Montreal as a free agent last summer to sign a five-year, $20.5 million free deal with the Islanders.
The 31-year-old Swiss national team captain was just as proud as his Austrian teammate of being a part of the all-star experience and the profile it brings to the sport back home.
"Hockey's quite a big deal and I don't think they realize how big it is in North American sports being an all-star," Streit said.Additional Information:
The 57th NHL All-Star Game
When: 6 p.m., today
Where: Bell Centre, Montreal