OTTAWA - At a NHL all-star game with an undefined top star, many are looking to Steven Stamkos to produce a memorable performance. And the Tampa Bay Lightning forward is more than willing to oblige.
Even though Sunday's all-star game at Scotiabank Place is an exhibition, Stamkos is looking to make an impression during his second appearance in the annual showcase.
"You have as much fun as you can, but at the end of the day every player has his pride and wants to go out there and perform well," he said Friday. "Everyone here wants to showcase their skills and prove to everyone that they prove to be at this game and this event. It's fun, but it does have that element of competitiveness that everyone brings in."
The game itself has little in common with the type of hockey played during the regular season. There is no backchecking, no penalties and no hitting—unless, of course, Scott Hartnell makes good on a promise to line up Philadelphia Flyers teammate Kimmo Timonen.
Hartnell's gritty style doesn't exactly translate to a skills showcase.
"I'm just going to work hard," said the first-time all-star. "I think that's when I'm effective. When I try and be too fancy and things like that, it's not my game. I'm going to forecheck and if Timonen's back there going in the corner to get the puck, hopefully I can get a lick on him."
There will be plenty of rivalries on display when Team Alfredsson faces Team Chara on Sunday afternoon at Scotiabank Place thanks to the drafting done by the captains. Daniel Alfredsson stocked up on Senators, Swedes and skilled players while Chara targeted Bruins teammates and members of the Maple Leafs, who are unpopular in these parts.
For Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla, it will be his sixth all-star appearance. One trend he's noticed is that players seem to be giving a little more effort now.
"It's a fun game, you want to go and just enjoy the experience," said Iginla. "Once it gets going, the pace usually ramps up. Each year over the last while, it's gotten a little bit quicker.
"I think this year's pretty young and they play a quick game."
The skills competition will be held Saturday night before the game goes Sunday afternoon.
A number of all-stars said they're anxious to watch Pavel Datsyuk, who was selected first in Thursday's fantasy draft by Chara. The Detroit Red Wings forward seemed genuinely humbled after receiving the nod, which came with a little extra attention.
His personal goal is to be among the best players on the ice but knows it will be no easy task.
"This game the goal has always been (to be) kind of a top five star," said Datsyuk. "I think it's (Evgeni) Malkin, Stamkos and especially Alfredsson and (Jason) Spezza here in the hometown. There will be lots of energy in the building given to them by the fans."
There are also 18 players making their first appearance in an all-star game, each of them eager to justify the invite. That will be a particularly tough task for Dan Girardi, a hard-nosed defenceman with the New York Rangers who leads the league this season with over 27 minutes of ice time per game.
Rangers coach John Tortorella—who will be behind Alfredsson's bench—is thrilled Girardi was included in the weekend even if he isn't likely to challenge for the MVP award.
"He may be lost out there a little bit," said Tortorella. "The style that he plays, he may be lost. You could put him up at forward and he'll probably do more there."
The goalies also tend to have a difficult time making a good impression.
Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings has had an amazing season with 30 wins at the break, but expects to see plenty of rubber in his one period of action. He won't be calling on any of his defencemen to block shots either.
"I wouldn't want anyone to get injured at my expense," said Howard. "Twenty minutes, you try to hold the fort down as best as you can and see what happens. Hopefully, I can keep it under five (goals allowed)."
Despite the fun nature of the event, many of the players believe something is at stake for them personally.
That could be especially true on a weekend that is without Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby—the sport's most marketable players since the lockout. However, Stamkos doesn't think anyone is poised to launch themselves in that stratosphere just yet.
"Sid and Ovie are going to be two of the best players, if not the best two, in the world," he said. "They deserve all the accolades that they get and they're good for our sport. I've seen how much hockey has grown over thepast couple years since I've been in the league.
"Everyone here wants to showcase their skills and prove to everyone that they prove to be at this game and this event. It's fun, but it does have that element of competitiveness that everyone brings in."