COLUMBUS, Ohio —At one point in the second period of Sunday evening’s NHL All-Star Game, John Tavares of the New York Islanders lost a handle on the puck during a breakaway. He stopped, backtracked, regained the puck, and still had all the time in the world to score — there was no defender in sight.
This is All-Star hockey. And it’s not very good. Defense isn’t optional, it’s non-existent.
“It’s kind of awkward out there,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said following Team Toews’ 17-12 victory over Team Foligno — the highest-scoring All-Star game in history. “There are times you’re caught in no-man’s land out there with 3-on-1s and 4-on-2s. But that’s part of it. And it’s fun to be out there.”
Of course, some guys can’t help themselves. Jonathan Toews helped lead his own team to victory with a Hawks-record five-point night, a goal and four assists.
“He was probably the hardest worker, too,” said Kane, an alternate captain on Nick Foligno’s team. “Guys were looking around like, ‘What’s up with Jonny? Why is he going so hard?’ I said that’s just the way he is. Jonny Hustle. Nothing really else to expect from him.”
Toews wasn’t the only player who put at least a little effort into the game. Tavares had four goals, Jakub Voracek had three goals and three assists, and Patrice Bergeron had a goal and four assists, while the local fans voted Ryan Johansen (two goals and two assists for the losing team) as MVP.
The Hawks contingent fared very well. While Marc-Andre Fleury flopped at the other end, giving up six goals on 10 shots, Corey Crawford made two highlight-reel saves and picked up the victory with a 14-save, four-goal second period. Kane had two goals, and Keith and Brent Seabrook each had an assist.
But it was basically a slow-motion shooting gallery on the ice. It’s been nearly 45 years since Pete Rose bowled over Ray Fosse in the Major League Baseball All-Star game, and the intensity has waned in all sports ever since. It might have hit a new low Sunday, as players moved at quarter-speed, defensemen stood still, and goaltenders flailed helplessly.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with an All-Star game being comically high-scoring. But it has to at least be entertaining.
“The game kind of gets better as it goes along,” Kane said. “Guys start trying a little bit harder. I think it’d be better for the game itself if we started out that way. And the game probably wouldn’t end up so high-scoring. You have to try to have fun with it. That’s all we’re really doing out there is having fun and trying to show our skill at the same time.”
The tepid game capped what had been a genuinely fun weekend in Columbus for players and fans alike. Friday night’s fantasy draft was a surprising comic gem, as players got well, uh, “hydrated” on live television and loosened up significantly, allowing their actual personalities to come through on TV. And Saturday’s skills competition was the usual entertaining mix of wacky antics and jaw-dropping talents, a made-for-TV event that fans and players both enjoy.
Then came the “game” on Sunday. No hitting is one thing. No defense and (at times) no effort whatsoever is quite another.
“It was kind of a loose game,” Crawford said. “Guys weren’t taking it very seriously. Just making sure nobody gets injured out there. You got to see a little bit of skill, too.”
Toews had a smile on his face most of the game, just as he did most of the weekend. He admitted he was a little wary of all the responsibilities he’d have as a team captain, but he clearly was having a blast throughout the weekend.
“[There was] maybe some anxiety surrounding the whole experience of being the captain, to draft all the players,” he said. “But I think [the draft] went really well, and win or lose, I think we’re enjoying it.”
At least somebody was.
NOTE: The Hawks recalled forward Dennis Rasmussen from Rockford during the game so they wouldn’t have to travel to Los Angeles with just 12 eligible forwards (Daniel Carcillo is suspended for four more games). To make room on the roster, Kris Versteeg (hand) was put on long-term injured reserve. Since Wednesday’s game against the Kings will be the 10th he’s missed, and since he’s already been out for more than 21 days, the designation doesn’t change his situation at all.