SAN JOSE, California – Connor McDavid still skates like the wind, Auston Matthews still loves Patrick Marleau and the Capitals’ representative still has the hardest shot.
Here are the highlights from Friday’s NHL All-Star Skills Competition, which was by turns entertaining, groundbreaking, and even heartwarming.
It’s McDavid’s world; we just live in it
Connor McDavid’s all-star haircut was as much for function as fashion.
“Especially if I don’t wear a helmet, I don’t want my hair flopping all over my face and I can’t see, right?” the Oilers captain said prior to the Fastest Skater contest.
To the surprise of precisely zero people, McDavid successfully defended his title with a blistering 13.378-second lap, becoming the first NHLer to win the race three times.
He edged out Jack Eichel (again), who posted a time of 13.582.
“Just go as fast as I could,” McDavid said. “It’s all about your crossovers, finding a way to continue your speed throughout the whole lap.”
There is no truth to the rumour McDavid will be donating the $25,000 in prize money to the Oilers’ salary cap.
Skate like a girl!
The coolest twist of the event had to be the addition of Kendall Coyne Schofield to Fastest Skater. The Team USA Olympic gold medallist was tapped to compete against the men as a substitute for Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, unable to participate after blocking a shot in the game leading up to all-star weekend.
As the first woman to compete in the NHL Skills Competition, Coyne Schofield hustled to an impressive time of 14.346, beating out Clayton Keller and possibly earning a tryout with the Kings.
“This is definitely a top-three moment in my career,” she beamed. “The crowd was electrifying. To hear the U-S-A chants. Everyone erupted when I started. Definitely gave me some momentum. Adrenalin was pumpin’.”
Coyne Schofield’s speed instantly earned respect from her peers.
“When she took off, I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” McDavid said. “I thought she might’ve won, the way she was moving. She’s an amazing skater, and it’s an amazing thing for the game when you can see her participate in an event like this.”
Added Auston Matthews: “She was flying. I was giving Kells a hard time because she beat him.”
Drawing a mass of reporters after the race, Coyne Schofield had a message to pass on.
“I would say especially to young girls, to women, follow your dreams, believe in yourselves,” she said. “There’s nothing you can’t accomplish. Tonight was an example of that.”
Hardest Shot stays in Washington
The field for this year’s Hardest Shot — typically the most difficult event to convince guys to try — took a hit when Alex Ovechkin opted out of all-star weekend. Ovie was the only contestant to crack triple digits in 2018, winning with a 101.3 mph blast.
We’d love to see Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara flown in for the event as specialists.
“It’s nuts. As soon as him and Shea Weber got their shots clocked, [they went] in a whole different league from anyone else,” John Carlson said. “It’s incredible how those guys can bring it.”
Of the four willing to fire (Carlson, Steven Stamkos, Brent Burns and Seth Jones), Carlson won easily, hammering both the hardest (102.8 mph) and second-hardest (100.8 mph) pucks with his 100-flex weapon.
“Just tried to shoot it as hard as I could,” said Carlson, breaking down his complex strategy.
It’s that simple, kids.
The NHL figured out how to fix Puck Control
A new gimmick introduced at last year’s skills contest in Tampa, the Puck Control obstacle course ran headfirst into awkwardness when several competitors struggled to scoop the puck through elevated windows.
This year, a referee dropped a fresh, warm puck before the flip-and-scoop obstacles. (A used cold puck is more difficult to manipulate.) Problem solved. Science triumphs again.
The handsy Patrick Kane (28.611) cruised through the course and was only bested by the event’s final competitor, Johnny Gaudreau at 27.045. Claude Giroux finished third.
Gaudreau believed he had a slight advantage having participated in the same event last year, but once he fumbled the puck in the deke, he’d figured he’d lost.
“Kaner is still a player I watch today and try to learn from and take little things from his game, so it’s cool,” he said.
Matthews wins crowd, but not Accuracy Shooting
David Pastrnak may have won the Accuracy Shooting contest, pinging off the five targets in a crisp 11.3 seconds, but last-place finisher Auston Matthews won over the San Jose fans by ripping off his Maple Leafs sweater to reveal a Patrick Marleau all-star sweater he had pressed for the competition.
— Christina Marleau (@c_marleau) January 26, 2019
Just a tad, that’s why I couldn’t hit any of the targets
— Auston Matthews (@AM34) January 26, 2019
A nice little ode to longtime Shark and a father figure who had a simple text message waiting for Matthews when he got off the ice: “Thanks. That was awesome.”
“I can’t explain how great of a guy he is and how close we are in our relationship,” Matthews said. “I like to make fun of him and tease him and say he’s like a second dad to me. He doesn’t like it. He’s like a brother to me.
“He treats everybody so well. It doesn’t matter who you are—a random person on the street or a teammate that plays with him—he treats everybody so kindly.”
Let’s just pass on Premier Passer
Yes, wise parents tell their children that an assist is just as good as a goal.
But watching players pass pucks into targets for two minutes can grow tedious, no matter how sweet the sauce.
At last year’s Skills, Drew Doughty struggled mightily. It might’ve been easier for him to pass a kidney stone.
“I hate it,” Doughty said. “I might have to do again this year. I’m sweating just talking about it.”
(Mercifully, the defenceman talked his way into Accuracy Shooting instead.)
Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl won the challenge by completing all his passes in an efficient 1:09.
“That was event that was tough. Really, really tough,” McDavid said.
“Leon, I know, was nervous. I kept saying, ‘You’re one of the best passers in the game. You could easily do it.’ And he proved that tonight.”
Big night for the representatives from Alberta, who went three for three.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 26, 2019
The King reigns supreme
Henrik Lundqvist asserted his King status in the Save Streak, a contest in which the goaltender who makes the most consecutive breakaway stops swipes the cash.
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s eight straight stops held up round after round, until Lundqvist took the net and turned away a dozen shooters in row.
“It’s a little scary when you face so much skill,” admitted the King. Smiling and stylish as ever, it’s palpable how much the veteran is soaking in his fifth all-star appearance.
“When you practise for an hour and you stay out there for 50, 60 breakaways, then you’re tired. Today, you just sit there and watch and enjoy the show. It’s fun.”
Although Marc-Andre Fleury was unable to defend his crown — the Flower stopped 14 in a row during the contest’s debut last winter — he did steal the highlights.
As Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” (a Fleury request) blared through the loudspeakers, the acrobatic Fleury made a sprawling old-school poke check on Mikko Rantanen and threw the splits to stuff out a Miro Heiskanen attempt with a toe.
You want more Gritty?! You get more Gritty!
The NHL is smart to milk its overnight celebrity for all he’s worth.
Gritty, the only mascot who lives in the dirty areas, strutted his googly self down the red carpet, then outraced Sharky in all-stuffy Fastest Skater contest.
“He’s got a good stride actually, Gritty,” Brent Burns said.