The National Hockey League’s most elite players flaunted their skills at the annual All-Star game this past Friday, Jan. 25. Forty-four of the best men in hockey were hosted by the San Jose Sharks’ at their home rink in Northern California, the SAP Center. The Atlantic Division, Central Division and Pacific Division were led by Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers respectively. Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was selected as the captain of the Metropolitan division, but he opted out of participating to rest and was not replaced. Ovechkin’s absence resulted in a mandatory one-game suspension, as this is a newly mandated penalty for choosing to abstain from involvement in the contest.
Kendall Coyne Schofield broke barriers as the first female to ever participate in an All-Star skills event. The 26-year-old five time gold medalist at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s Championships and one time Winter Olympic gold medalist gave her competition a run for their money during the Fastest Skater Competition. She registered an impressive time of 14.376 seconds, but incumbent Victor McDavid showed up completing the challenge in 13.378 seconds and upholding his title as fastest skater for the third year in a row. Coyne Schofield was joined on the ice by other female talents including Brianna Decker, Renata Fast and Rebecca Johnston, all of whom participated as well.
Fan-favorite Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (26-16-6) missed Friday’s Skills Competition due to illness but returned on Saturday at full strength. He tallied 8 points in two games this weekend; 2 goals and 1 assist in the first game against the Atlantic Division, and 2 goals and 3 assists in the final against the Central Division. Crosby was instrumental in leading the Metropolitan Division to victory (10-5) in the final. He earned himself the title of MVP, as voted by fans. This was the first time Crosby received such an honor in all four of his All-Star appearances. He is now the sixth player in NHL history to win All-Star MVP, as well as the Hart and Conn Smythe trophies.
This weekend was monumental for lifelong hockey faithfuls, as new enhanced puck and player software was introduced and tested. The league announced that come next season, all 31 arenas will have the progressive software installed and working. Broadcasters toyed with new features to give viewers a preview of the capabilities that the technology has, such as the ability to record shift length, distance travelled, skating speed and much more. Feedback was welcomed on social media platforms like twitter and well received by NBC so that by next October, the technology would be used not just for its intelligence, but also for its competence to make watching hockey a more enjoyable and entertaining experience.
Those players who were not selected to represent their teams in California had a well deserved bye week at the same time as the All-Star game occured, just past the halfway mark of the 82 game regular season. Already, talk is stirring regarding which teams will secure their spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs in late May. The Tampa Bay Lightning (37-7-2) are on everyone’s radar, as they have had an outstanding season. The Bolts have competed in 18 of the last 20 playoff runs, but the franchise has never hoisted the cup. They lead the league in wins, and are closely trailed by the Calgary Flames (33-13-5). The Flames bumped the Winnipeg Jets (31-15-2) out of their second place spot on Jan. 22, which they held for five consecutive weeks. Calgary also remains strong at the top of the Pacific division.
The reigning Stanley Cup Champions, The Washington Capitals (27-17-6), currently fall second to the New York Islanders (29-15-5) in the Metropolitan division rankings. April is coming fast, and New York has certainly surprised their fans and competitors this season. The Islanders haven’t seen a playoff series win since 1983. Despite their beloved captain and six-time all star, John Tavares, signing as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs (30-17-2) last year, the team has proven that they can manage sufficiently without their long-time leader.
Currently, the Boston Bruins (27-17-5) and the Pittsburgh Penguins are taking up the Eastern Conference Wild Card spots. The Penguins have won 2 Stanley Cup Finals in the last four years. They must fight for their number two spot, as the Buffalo Sabres (24-18-6) are on their heels as they fall behind only four points.
The Western Conference Wild Cards are the Dallas Stars (24-21-4) and the Colorado Avalanche (22-20-8). The Edmonton Oilers (23-24-2) are only 3 points behind the Avalanche for the second wild card. Their captain, McDavid, reminded the media of how tight the race is while assuring the public that the despite the firing of their general manager and president of hockey operations Peter Chiarelli this past week, Edmonton will forge on. While it is still too early to get a clear picture as to who will emerge triumphant, 31 teams will narrow to 16 in the contest to earn North America’s oldest professional sports trophy.