Alex Kovalev of the Montreal Canadiens competes in the \'Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge\' during the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition as part of the 2009 NHL All-Star weekend. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
MONTREAL - If last night’s skills competition was any indication, today’s 57th NHL All-Star Game will be all about heroes.
Some, naturally, will be the representatives of the Montreal Canadiens, including young goaltender Carey Price and Eastern Conference captain Alex Kovalev. But some unlikely candidates also emerged Saturday evening.
Boston’s Tim Thomas may not have been a crowd favorite at the skills event, but his unorthodox style of netminding certainly keeps star snipers frustrated and his mantra of never giving up on a puck will serve him well. It will be difficult for Bruins teammate Zdeno Chara to snap up an MVP award from the blueline in what promises to be an offensively-inclined game, but Big Z certainly looked like a hero after the hardest shot competition, getting a rousing ovation from a Montreal crowd that lustily booed him just seconds before.
In terms of an inside favorite, Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals demigod and the NHL’s spotlight player, will have the mantle all to himself with Sidney Crosby watching from the sidelines. How ironic would it be if he were to win the All-Star Game MVP award while riding shotgun on a line with new/old friend Evgeni Malkin, Sid’s teammate with the Penguins?
As a quick aside, Malkin’s aiding of Ovechkin on the Fan Favorite Breakaway Contest – an instant classic that saw the quiet Russian squirt water into Ovie’s mouth as the gregarious Russian donned a Tilley hat and sunglasses – was an amazing moment to witness, especially since the press always assumed the duo had bitter feelings. Did they recently make up, or was it all a big gag? Malkin was characteristically aloof about the situation: “He said ‘help me.’ I said, ‘OK.’ ”
But it’s the sentimental choices that will provide the nicest stories should those players make the difference in the World’s Best Shinny Game. Returning to Montreal as the Edmonton Oilers’ representative, defenseman Sheldon Souray had told the press weeks ago he expected to be the target of boo birds all weekend, but that clearly wasn’t the case last night, as Souray got one of the loudest cheers of the evening.
“The reception was really warm,” Souray said. “That was terrific. A real show of class – and it was great to see them do it for ‘Streiter’ (ex-Hab, current New York Islander Mark Streit), too.”
With this being the 100th year of Montreal Canadiens hockey, the All-Star Weekend has had a magical tinge to it throughout. The city is swelling with pride over its team and the streets (well, the buildings – no one is on the streets thanks to the frigid temperatures) are electric.
Which is why Kovalev is very conscious and proud of the role he is playing at the game.
“It means a lot to have been listed in the starting lineup and to be named captain,” he said.
Of course, a victory for the Habs-led Eastern Conference would be a very nice cherry atop this sundae and Kovalev promised full effort.
“You try to make it as exciting as possible,” he added.
But there will be some very impressive names on the backs of the Western Conference sweaters, too, and dynamic young talents such as Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf are sure to be primed to make their mark.
And how will the crowd react if the conquering hero happens to be former son Souray, stealing the victory for the Western Conference? For his part, the cannon-armed defenseman is ready to light it up.
“Once you get out there,” Souray said, “you compete.”
Members of the THN team will be filing reports from Montreal throughout the ASG weekend.