The Buffalo Sabres were not well represented at the 2012 All Star Game in Ottawa this year, with representatives Jason Pominville and Luke Adam being the only players appearing for the Blue and Gold. Both Sabres forwards however proved they had the skills to match-up with the other elite members of the NHL as they excelled in their individual and team events during the Skills Competition.
I for one was never a big fan of the NHL Skills competition. I remember going to see a live hometown version of the Skills Competition one of the first years the league entertained the venue, back when each team would hold the event and send their winners to the All Star weekend to compete. My resistance to the Skills competition was much like my early resistance to the shootout to end games in the regular season, its a gimmick, its not real hockey, I could do without it.
The Skills competition took a lot longer to grow on me than the shootout in the regular season. I think this year was the first time I ever watched, on television, a complete skills competition – and I actually enjoyed it. No – it wasn’t hockey in the purist sense of the word, yes it still is a gimmick and a venue for the players to be paraded in front of the fans in order to generate revenue (albeit for a good cause of the players pension fund and other charities instead of the league and the teams), but it is fun. Seeing the players compete head to head against guys that they normally would play alongside; seeing frustration levels, banter against players, and some of the tricks and follies of the night have made the Skills competition more of a must see than the All Star Draft, and the All Star game itself. Despite the fact that Jason Pominville will be playing at 4PM on Sunday in the all star game; I would rather be doing someone’s taxes than tune in to the game, yet tonight I was glued to my couch watching – not so much to see who would win, as to see the show.
The accuracy contest is one that I don’t really put much effort into watching. You have four stationary targets in the corners of the nets, and you are timed to see how fast you can hit all the targets. Even in the previous format where the guy who hit the targets in the fewest number of shots would win, I wasn’t a fan of this event. Put the targets on a moving track and make it fastest time and fewest pucks – and the entertainment value might go up some. To me, this event is past its prime and needs to be retired in favor of a different event. Guys have gone four for four. You can’t get any better than that. Lets move on.
Fastest skater is a decent event, especially since the goalies are involved. I like the concept of making the defenseman skate backwards during their relays, as it is a part of their position. Nothing really to comment on here, the event never gets old because there is a way to be better than last year with speed – not sure if there is a record for the fastest skater, because I think the technology to time the skaters in previous years wasn’t as good, and the course of skating has changed.
The relay is an interesting event because it incorporate the “team” aspect of an actual game. You have multiple players doing multiple different things based on game skills to see what heat can go the fastest. This year Sabres forward Jason Pominville was part of the action and hit his four targets in the final leg of his heat with just a couple of ticks left on the clock to be the fastest heat. While I thought some of his shots were like a pre-pubescent boy trying to get to third base (sloppy and all over the place) he made his shots count and hit the targets. Nothing fancy, just the Pominville way, get it done and move on.
The hardest shot competition started with the rookies, and much to my delight the Buffalo Sabres rookie Luke Adam was going up against Carolina Hurricanes rookie Justin Faulk. Even though my favorite foe writer claims she didn’t see it so it didn’t happen, the young Sabres center, while hoping to get 90 mph on Twitter before the event, almost hit the 100 MPH marker, beating the Canes forward in the first heat. In fact, of the guys that didn’t break the 100 MPH barrier, Luke Adam had the fastest rubber in Ottawa tonight, only being beaten by Chara, Weber, Alfredsson, and Spezza. I am torn on this event. While Chara broke his record from last year twice this year en route to setting a new record, his record from last year was broken by the runner up Shea Weber. With composite sticks that damn near whip – I would like to see Chara go at it with a stick from the 90′s – or even a wood stick with less give to see if he could still muster up the same whip and speed; I am sure his size and the length of the stick have a lot to do with it, but this event is probably the most business like of all the events, I could take it or leave it in future competitions.
The Breakway challenge has become probably one of the fan favorite events of the Skills competition with the American Idol like selection of the winner. This year’s winner was Patrick Kane, Buffalo’s own for his SuperMan/Clark Kent impersonation, complete with the hand pass to himself and exploding puck routine. I admit it, I sent my vote via text message to the NHL, but I did not vote for Kane’s three trips down the ice. My vote went to Anaheim‘s Corey Perry. I wasn’t sure what to think when he stopped and started flinging gear off like he was going to go all Rob Ray on Brian Eliot. I don’t know whether or not Perry actually deked Eliot out that bad or if Eliot gave him the empty net to shoot on because of the stick disadvantage (couldn’t Perry have found a regular mini stick instead of a goalies stick?). Kane’s act to me was a repeat, Ovechkin brought out the costumes before – and to me that’s who Ovie is, not Kane. This is one event that I hope continues to be a mainstay of the skills competition just because of how much fun the goalies had with it. Props to Montreal goaltender Carey Price who made a stop while his back was to the play intentionally – using the reflection in the glass behind the net to guide him. To me the goalies have fun with this event is just as important as the shooters, and this year, all guys were able to make light of the event.
I did like the way the final event – the elimination shootout was handled. Jason Pominville went 2-3 in the event and lost only to eventual winner Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The only thing that I would change in this event is to make the goalies change after every shooter, instead of facing for shots before switching. While the NHL Skills competition does a lot to showcase the skills of the forwards and defensemen with the puck, the goalies go to the event to be nothing more than cannon fodder and rubber receivers. There has to be a way to design an event that the goalies can do to showcase what got them to the All Star weekend to begin with.
From a Buffalo Sabres standpoint, hopefully winning the fastest shot competition will boost the nerves of Luke Adam, when the Buffalo Sabres return to action he will be back between Pominville and Vanek on the Sabres top line, this might boost his confidence enough where it boosts his production and his stat numbers.
If the Sabres can hold on until shootouts, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek in the shootout lineup now seem like a nasty one two punch.
NHL All Star Weekend continues tomorrow with the actual All Star game at 4PM EST.