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Penguins

NHL notebook: Letang puts added speed on display

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, 9:42 p.m.
The Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin hit four of five targets in the accuracy shooting competition at the NHL All-Star Skill Game skills competition.
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The Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin hit four of five targets in the accuracy shooting competition at the NHL All-Star Skill Game skills competition.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, curiously enough, seems to be getting faster as he gets older.

Letang, now 28, took part in the fastest skater contest at the NHL All-Star Game skills competition Saturday night, turning in a time of 14.081 seconds. That's faster than the 14.501 seconds he clocked at age 24 at the 2012 All-Star Game in Ottawa and the 16.132 seconds he recorded in 2011 in Raleigh, N.C.

There's a good reason for that, and it's not that he found the fountain of youth. In his previous All-Star skills appearances, the first skater for both teams, a defenseman, was required to skate backward. He skated forward Saturday night.

Accuracy rating

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is known more for his offensive explosiveness than his pinpoint precision, but his skills competition track record might indicate otherwise.

Malkin hit four targets in five tries in the accuracy shooting competition. Add that to his performance when he won the contest in 2009 in Montreal, and he has hit 11 targets in 13 tries in his all-star history.

New York Islanders center John Tavares won the contest, hitting four plates in four tries.

Shooting star

Hometown favorite Shea Weber of the Predators hit 108.1 mph on the radar gun in the hardest shot contest, falling just short of Zdeno Chara's record of 108.8 mph in the event. Malkin checked in at 97.0 mph.

Playing for laughs

Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban won the breakaway challenge, a prop comedy-based contest with a winner voted by the fans.

He impersonated Jaromir Jagr, wearing a mullet wig, full-length Cooperalls pants and a Jofa helmet, saluting after he scored.

He edged Predators winger James Neal, who brought out country singer Dierks Bentley for a two-on-none, and Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, who wore a Chewbacca mask.

Crowd reaction

Aside from their hometown Predators, the fans at the Bridgestone Arena saved their loudest ovation for enforcer John Scott during introductions before the skills competition. Patrick Kane, who has a checkered past and plays for the rival Chicago Blackhawks, received the most boos.

A vote for three-on-three

There are plenty of reasons to think the switch to three-on-three play will make Sunday's All-Star Game more entertaining, from the novelty of the format to all the open ice available to the best players in the world.

Letang likes it for a different reason, though. Those nagging thoughts he has from time to time about playing a more responsible game go right out the window when it's three-on-three.

“It's the first time you can not care about defense,” he said. “Most teams play man-on-man because there's so much room, so it's the only time you can actually be in front of your forward and not have to come back that fast.”

AHL All-Stars

The Baby Pens originally were scheduled to have three players in the AHL All-Star Game on Monday night in Syracuse, N.Y. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot pulled out because he remains on the NHL roster, and goalie Matt Murray and rookie forward Dominik Simon will not play due to minor injuries. Now, only defenseman Will O'Neill will represent the team in the game.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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