NBC’s Doc Emrick gives his thoughts on the intrigue of this year’s All-Star Weekend

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NHL on NBC’s lead play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick will be on the mic for the NHL SuperSkills Saturday night and All-Star Game Sunday afternoon for Versus and if you asked him, the way the team draft plays out on Friday night for the NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft at 8 p.m. the real drama kicks the weekend off right.

“It used to be that the first day of All-Star Weekend was a travel day. Now with the draft on Friday it’s arguably the most looked forward to part of it all. During our Winter Classic broadcast, Pierre McGuire, Mike Milbury, and Darren Pang had a sort of mock trial about all this and Mike asked, ‘Do you pick your friends or do you pick the guys you figure will make the best team?’ It’s a great question and it’s a great concept.You know, it makes it so fun especially when it comes down to who ends up getting picked last.”

Emrick is one of the biggest appreciators of the game around and it’s something that you can tell in how he calls a game on the air. While being a professional at what he does at calling the games he finds it’s hard to not be a fan with how the selection process will break down especially with so many possible story lines to go through that may come up suddenly on Friday night, especially with the Staal boys. With the fantasy draft on Friday night, he’s now got an event he’s looking forward to more than an old stand by.

“I always liked seeing Zdeno Chara taking the hardest shot and whether or not he could break his mark from the previous year. But now our thoughts don’t turn to that as much as it does to who’s is going to choose whom and at what point and what statement is being made by that. All this speculation about that, it helps make this meet up that much more fun.”

It’s hard not to be caught in thinking about how the Fantasy Draft will turn out on Friday night. After all, we don’t even have teams and rosters to break down and compare to one another. All we’ve got for now is that Eric Staal has Washington’s Mike Green and Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler as his assistants while Nick Lidstrom has Martin St. Louis and Patrick Kane helping him out. Everything else is up in the air now especially with Sidney Crosby and Ales Hemsky out of the game with injuries.

With all the attention being on these guys for how things will play out on Friday night, some are wondering whether or not it’ll make for good television. Emrick says that rather than hamming it up as showmen, Staal and Lidstrom would be better served to do things the same way they always have.

“I don’t know whether they’re going to turn into showbiz guys. To tell you the honest truth, I’d be a little disappointed if they did because that’s not the personality of either one. They’re decisive guys. If they’re going to end up showboating or anything like that, that would be a bit that’s out of character for them,” Emrick says.

“If they’re going to have fun with it though, that’s great. Their idea of fun might be different than that of somebody who’s in the entertainment business. The good news is they’re going to be making some great hockey. I’m going to be a fan of the whole thing too.”

Often times folks look at the All-Star Game with a bit of a cynical view and while that’s understandable in some cases, it’s also a stress-free way to show off the game and with how things will set up for Sunday via Friday night’s draft you have to be a pretty hardened character to not look at this whole thing with a sense of wonderment and curiosity.

If you’ve ever played a video game or fantasy hockey (or fantasy sports of any kind) you always wondered how the team you’ve picked would shake out. It’s just one game, but if heard it from Doc Emrick, you’d start to see that maybe looking at things so cut and dried is maybe missing the point of it all.

“The players don’t think much about the business side of things when they’re out on the ice. Once that puck drops, they’re going to be doing the absolute best they can with the skill sets they have and probably have a lot of smiles on their faces because they know it doesn’t cost them anything in the standings,” Emrick says.

“That’s the reason the video you see from all-star games shows players laughing. This is not the serious business of moving up in the standings this is just having a little fun on the weekend and let’s see what happens.”

Kraft Hockeyville: Blues beat Penguins in tune-up for season-opener

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Much like Sunday night, the St. Louis Blues will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for a game in Pennsylvania on Oct. 4. With that in mind, the more heated moments from tonight’s Kraft Hockeyville preseason match might be fresh on the minds of both teams when the games start to count.

In this case, the Blues carried the play from a variety of perspectives, including the final score of 4-1.

The Penguins got the first goal when Jake Guentzel finished a nice one-timer sequence set by Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, yet St. Louis was able to leverage its possession advantages to goals that beat Matt Murray up high.

The first one came from a familiar face in Vladimir Tarasenko, who aims for a Maurice Richard Trophy in 2017-18.

The game-winner was from 19-year-old Jordan Kyrou:

Paul Stastny then iced the game with a 3-1 empty-netter with a little less than 30 seconds remaining. Dmitrij Jaskin then made it 4-1 with a nice, patient score with Murray sprawling on the ice.

Carter Hutton deserves credit for a sharp win, but the final score didn’t do Murray’s alert evening justice, as the Blues fired 45 shots on him. This was probably the save of the contest:

While the Blues and Penguins wanted to be alert in this one, the stuff they might remember came down to rougher moments. Things started to escalate when Crosby mixed it up with Alex Pietrangelo.

As a preseason contest, some of this will likely be forgotten by veteran Penguins and Blues, but the people of Cranberry, Pa. and Belle Vernon, Pa. won’t soon forget the Kraft Hockeyville experience.

WATCH LIVE: Kraft Hockeyville featuring Penguins vs. Blues

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to host the St. Louis Blues to celebrate the latest edition of Kraft Hockeyville USA, with the game beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Find out more about Kraft Hockeyville winner Belle Vernon, Pa. in the video above this post’s headline (and also in this post). The game itself is taking place at UPMC Lemieux Sports complex in Cranberry, Pa.

NHL.com captures some of the spectacle, as about 2,000 fans showed up and players signed autographs during what sounded like a very fun event.

Speaking of very fun, all signs point to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being among those players suiting up for the game itself.

Predators marvel at Fiala’s ‘beautiful’ work in preseason win

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Confession: It was difficult to shake the memory of Kevin Fiala‘s frightening injury from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you need a reminder of the scary moment that ended what seemed like a breakthrough run, the video can be seen above this headline.

Another confession: personally, there’s been some concern about how well Fiala can bounce back, at least early on. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the young forward is his blazing speed; what if that’s been taken away from him?

Now, scoring two goals in the Nashville Predators’ 5-3 preseason win against the Columbus Blue Jackets doesn’t mean Fiala will avoid missing a beat in 2017-18.

Forgive Predators fans for getting excited, anyway, especially with goals like these.

Wow.

Filip Forsberg got borderline-romantic about what Fiala did on Sunday, and again, can you really blame him?

Again, the true tests for both Fiala and the Predators begin in October. Still, it’s better to look impressive at this time of the year instead of to go in slow (or injured, as the unlucky St. Louis Blues seem to be doing).

Gaudreau, other NHL players approve of crackdown on slashing

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When slash after slash broke one of Johnny Gaudreau‘s fingers, he called it part of the game.

The Calgary Flames winger known as “Johnny Hockey” is one of the NHL’s most marketable players, so broken bones should be a problem.

Slashing has become such a regular element in NHL games that it necessitated 791 minor penalties last season with countless more going uncalled. Gaudreau’s broken finger and Marc Methot‘s lacerated pinkie brought enough attention to the issue that the league is taking a stronger stand on flagrant slashing this year to cut down on injuries and obstruction.

“I think it’s tough for the refs to make those calls in games: You don’t really know how bad a slash is,” said Gaudreau, who sat out two and a half weeks after surgery to repair a fractured finger on his left hand. “But if they can harp down or look at it a little more closely, I think it might cause a little less injuries. Guys won’t be missing substantial time. I think it’d be huge.”

It was impossible to ignore slashing when Sidney Crosby sliced Methot’s finger open during a game in March, forcing the defenseman to miss three weeks. No penalty was called, and Crosby didn’t receive any supplemental discipline.

After members of the league’s competition committee recommended a closer look at slashing, officials have been instructed that it’s OK to call it more this season. NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said the rise in slashing over the past decade came about after the stricter enforcement of hooking and holding following the 2004-05 lockout with players finding new tactics to slow the game down.

“Players started slashing in between the hands and on the hands, and the whacking became hacking became something that became the norm in the game,” Walkom said. “It’s time to have a stronger enforcement to let the players know what they can and can’t do. If you’re going to be whacking a player’s hands six, eight feet from the puck, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be penalized if it’s seen by the officials on the ice.”

So many slashing penalties were called in the first few preseason games that it was somewhat comical. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere understands slashing but said he doesn’t know if it should be a penalty when no one knows why the whistle was blown.

Walkom sent a note reminding referees that the intent was to focus on slashes around the hands, not every time a player’s stick hits an opponent in the heavily-padded pants. Slashing at players’ hands will not only be an area of emphasis on the ice but also from the league office where new vice president of player safety George Parros is watching closely.

The former enforcer said slashes delivered with greater force or directed at players’ fingers will be met with fines and/or suspensions.

“We’re going to try and change player behavior,” Parros said. “We’re certainly trying to get rid of a pattern of a certain type of slash. If that’s like a harder slash on the fingertips as opposed to maybe in the elbow pad or something, that might be something we look at. And if it’s a pattern of a certain type of location slash or if it’s a pattern of a player, we’re going to look to eliminate both of those.”

Reducing unnecessary injuries is just one piece of this tighter enforcement. As with the crackdown on the hooking, holding and interference that mucked games up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, fewer slashes should open the ice up for offensive players at even-strength and potentially lead to more power plays.

“In some ways it’s going to put even bigger premium on getting body position and not being stuck in a position where you have to reach for a guy,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Usually that’s a positive sign for getting more opportunities to produce.”

St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo said he already noticed players slashing less often a few games into the preseason. That’s one of the intended consequences of calling certain types of slashes more.

“The players are the smartest people in the game relative to the game and they will adjust because nobody wants to sit in the penalty box,” Walkom said. “A lot of it’s reflex and habit, but the players will break old habits with a consistent enforcement.”

Old habits die hard, but it’s easier than healing broken bones.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey