2011 NHL All-Star Game – Pregame report

The NHL All-Star Game gets under way at 4 p.m. and with so many potential story lines that will go down in this afternoon’s game, there’s a few things to at least keep an eye on during the game.

Goalies

We know Marc-Andre Fleury will start for Team Lidstrom but it hasn’t been announced yet who will start for Team Staal. The speculation says that hometown guy Cam Ward will get the nod to play the first period. If it’s not Ward, it’ll be either Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist getting the nod.

If you’re not familiar with how the All-Star Game goes, each goalie will play for a period. It’s an easy way to either keep your team in the game or end up being part of a highlight reel of insane goals.

Teammate vs. Teammate

Seven different teams will have teammates squaring off against each other in this one. Having these sorts of showdowns is part of what helps make this format to the game a lot more interesting and the most intriguing face off comes with twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin being on opposing teams for the first time. Henrik suits up for Team Lidstrom while Daniel is on Team Staal. Ryan Kesler joins Daniel on Team Staal as part of the Vancouver showdown.

Other teams with a taste of civil war to them have players getting a chance to score on their goalie teammates. Anaheim has Corey Perry (Staal) getting to fire pucks on Jonas Hiller (Lidstrom), Boston has Zdeno Chara (Staal) going against Tim Thomas (Lidstrom), and Pittsburgh has Kris Letang (Staal) going against Marc-Andre Fleury (Lidstrom).

Chicago will see Patrick Sharp be a one-man gang for Team Staal against his teammates Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Jonathan Toews for Team Lidstrom. Colorado has young gun Matt Duchene (Lidstrom) up against Paul Stastny (Staal) while the Flyers will have Daniel Briere (Lidstrom) go up against Claude Giroux (Staal).

Not-so secret key to the game: Chemistry

It’s not a real secret that keeping guys that play together on the same team together on the ice and both Team Staal and Team Lidstrom have plenty of representation that bring a little bit of chemistry together on the ice. Team Staal brings the thunder with hometown favorites Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal. Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin and Washington’s Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin will look to bring the offense.

Team Lidstrom has the Blackhawks trio of Kane, Toews, and Keith to run out there when they need to. A pair of dynamic duos to watch will be Dallas’ Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson and Tampa Bay’s Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Mixing in any other forward with those pairs should work out rather nice. Minnesota’s Martin Havlat and Brent Burns will also get a chance to work things out as well.

Most important thing to remember

It’s all for fun and to show off everyone’s elite skill. If you find yourself getting agitated about the lack of hitting or defensive presence at all, you might need to take a breather and go for a walk to let that clear out of your system. These guys do want to win, but they’re not about to lay out and block shots to do it. Sit back and enjoy the show.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

Their struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.