A skills competition John Scott can win; more NHL All-Star Game notes
There’s no telling what will happen when Pacific Division captain John Scott takes to the ice in Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). The fan favorite isn’t exactly known for his skill—one of the reasons why he’s currently skating with St. John’s of the AHL—and he’s never been used during three-on-three play this season. It will be a win for all involved if he doesn’t hurt himself trying to keep up.
But even if he’s out of place in the big game, Scott will have a chance to make his mark during Saturday’s All-Star Skills competition (Sat. 7 pm., NBCSN, CBC,SN, TVA).
Each of the 44 players must participate in at least one of the six events: fastest skater, accuracy shooting, relay, shootout, hardest shot and breakaway challenge. But which one of those tests makes sense for a player who is more comfortable throwing hands than showing them off?
Fastest skater: At 6' 8", 260 pounds, Scott could probably carry a piano on his back ... and when he’s skating, it kinda looks like he does. Probably not the best choice.
Accuracy shooting: Scott hasn’t scored since April 1 (no foolin’) of last year and he has just five goals to show for his entire 285-game NHL career. Maybe accuracy isn’t his strong suit, either.
Relay: In the past, this event has featured a variety of finely-tuned skills, from sharp-angle one-timers to accuracy passing into tiny targets to puck control through cones and stick handling through pucks. This is Seguin/Kane/Tarasenko territory—the potential for embarrassment is high.
Shootout: Scott says he’s never participated in a shootout at any level of hockey. In fact, the Sharks went 13 shooters deep into one tie-breaker last season and Scott was so sure he wouldn’t be chosen that he untied his skates. At least he didn’t tell the equipment manager to take his sticks back to the room.
Hardest shot: He’s not known as a bomber, but that’s probably for lack of opportunity more than anything. With his size, Scott can probably crank it ... but does he really want to upstage hometown hero Shea Weber, the favorite to defend his win in this competition last year? Nah.
Breakaway challenge: That leaves the obvious choice. This event isn’t about the skill so much as a well-crafted bit. Think Jakub Voracek and his little helper in 2015, or Patrick Kane’s Superman routine in 2012. This one’s all about creativity and having fun. Scott, who has been the model of good humor throughout the whole fan voting debacle, clearly knows about that. And since the winner is selected via an online vote (or at least, it has been in the past) all it’ll take is a bit of effort and this thing’s in the bag.
Whatever he ends up doing, here’s hoping Scott enjoys the experience.
• That lower-body injury that’s keeping Alex Ovechkin out of the All-Star Game? Apparently it was suffered, or at least aggravated, while clearing snow that piled up during last weekend’s blizzard.“It was a bad decision,” he said.
The league made the right call in replacing him on the Metropolitan Division roster with teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 23-year-old is quietly enjoying a breakthrough season. His 49 points are tied for fifth in the NHL scoring race and his 28 primary assists rank first. He’ll bring the kind of skill and enthusiasm that will enhance both the challenge events and the three-on-three mini games. And if it helps expose one of the league’s most exciting young stars, so much the better.
John Tavares of the Islanders has been named to replace Ovechkin as the division captain.
The league also announced that Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (illness) will skip the weekend. He’ll be replaced by Nashville’s James Neal. There were much better choices to be made—Blake Wheeler of the Jets was a blatant oversight on the original roster and Toews’s teammate Artemi Panarin would have been a logical fill-in—but the Bridgestone Arena crowd won’t mind having another local hero to cheer for.
Of course, there’s no replacing the star power that Ovechkin and Toews would have provided and the event will suffer for their absence. And as a result of skipping the trip, both players will have to sit out their team’s first game back after the break. Ovechkin will miss the Capitals’ tilt on Feb. 2 against Florida. Toews will sit out the same night when the Hawks visit Colorado.
• Doesn’t matter how much money you make: Everybody loves free stuff. That’s why All-Star Game participants tend to make a beeline to the swag room in the host hotel to scoop up all the goodies provided by various sponsors and league partners. A lot of it ends up being re-gifted—one player told me a few years back that his bag full of portable electronics, designer sunglasses and colognes meant that his Christmas shopping was done in January—but there’s always something they want to keep for themselves.
And it’s pretty obvious what this year’s standout item will be.
You don’t have to be Hank Garland to recognize what a beauty these are. Each Gibson guitar is engraved with both the All-Star Game logo and the player’s name, perfect for serenading co-eds or embarking on a post-hockey career in country music.
Just a bit of advice from personal experience: Make it your carry-on. You don’t want to trust it to airlines baggage handlers.
The numbers game
• The Flyers head into the All-Star break with eight overtime wins (8-4) that tie them for the league lead in that department with the Flames (8-1) and Blackhawks (8-4).
• The Avalanche have overcame a two-goal deficit to win four times this season. Only the Stars (5) have done so more often.
• Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner played in his 423rd consecutive game to pass Bobby Carpenter for the franchise’s longest such streak.
• Check out this compilation of the best three-on-three goals so far this season. Gotta admit, it's been fun.
• Bob McKenzie polled NHL coaches for their thoughts on hardware winners and Stanley Cup contenders.