Metro Division Reigns Supreme in All-Star Game

In a game known for lots of goal scoring, the Metropolitan Division was able to pull out a victory in the NHL All-Star mini tournament with a low-scoring, almost defensive affair buoyed by goaltending.

The festivities began with introductions of the NHL’s 100 greatest players – who were named in a ceremony on Friday in LA – and the current All-Stars. As each modern All-Star was introduced, they would skate by the line of legends and fist bump each one. The ceremonial puck drop then featured each of the greatest players dropping a puck to a current All-Star, less a faceoff and more just a puck drop and a cool moment for each of the current NHL All-Stars. The mini tournament then began: two semifinal games of two ten minute “halves” and then a final in the third period also consisting of two ten minute periods

The Pacific Division started things off with a 10-3 win over the Central Division. Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks scored the first goal of the game (off assists from Salem, New Jersey’s Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary and Bo Horvat of Vancouver). From there it was just a torrent of Pacific Division goals. Every Pacific Division skater had a least one goal.  Gaudreau led the team with two goals and tied with Fowler and Horvat in points with three for this game. The Central got goals from Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko and Nashville’s PK Subban. The Pacific had 22 shots on goal to the Central’s 12.

In the second game, the winners of yesterday’s Skills Competition, the Atlantic Division, chose to play the Metro in the later game. It turned out to be a bad decision for them, as the Metro Division piled on the goals, winning 10-6. Columbus’ Cam Atkinson (a late-minute replacement for Pittsburgh’s injured Evgeni Malkin) led the team with four points (two goals and two assists) and Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds had two goals in the game. He had good chemistry with the Devils’ Taylor Hall, who assisted on Columbus’ Seth Jones’ goal at 1:45 of the second half of the mini game and had an unassisted goal five seconds later when he chipped the puck by the Atlantic center off the faceoff and skated by goaltender Tuukka Rask, who had come out of his crease to put the puck into an empty net. The Atlantics outshot the Metros 25-21, but the Metro Division was moving on to the finals to face the Pacific Division. The Atlantic Division’s leading scorers were Florida’s Vincent Trocheck (one goal, three assists for four points) and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov (two goals, two assists for four points).

In the final, goaltending stole the show. The Metro’s Braden Holtby (Washington) and Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus) and the Pacific’s Martin Jones (San Jose) and Mike Smith (Arizona) were on top for most of the game, standing on their heads at times. But the Metropolitan Division won on the strength of goals by Atkinson, Seth Jones and Justin Faulk of Carolina. Wayne Gretzky – who was filling in for John Tortarella, who had a family emergency and could not be there – actually used his coach’s challenge on a goal by the Pacific where he alleged that Connor McDavid was offside on the play. The Great One was right and the goal was disallowed – a rare occurrence in the All-Star Game to be sure. The Metro would capitalize on that, winning the game 4-3. Pacific coach Pete DeBoer actually pulled goalie Mike Smith but it was to no avail. The Pacific had gotten goals from Horvat and McDavid as well as San Jose’s Joe Pavelski. The Metro Division outshot the Pacific 18-17 in the final.

The Metropolitan Division were the winners of the All-Star tournament, defeating the defending champion Pacific Division and claiming the $1 million prize money. Wayne Simmonds was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

It was a good tournament, giving fans a little taste of everything. From the high scoring of the Pacific versus Central game and the Metro versus Atlantic game to the low-scoring, almost defensive contest between the Metro and the Pacific in the final, there was something for all fans. Taylor Hall had a good game, finishing with two points, a highlight reel goal and helping to prove that there can be (at the least) cordial relations between a Devil and a Flyer.

Los Angeles also put on the kind of show that you would expect from Hollywood. Good job by the Kings on the entire weekend, which also included a replica of Stan Mikita’s fictional donut shop from the movie Wayne’s World outside of the Staples Center. It was a fun show put on the All-Star players and the Kings made it that much more of a great weekend for the NHL.

Schneider Named to All-Star Team

With the NHL All-Star Game mini-tournament coming up later this month in Nashville, it was time to announce the teams that would take part.

The format this year will feature an all-star team from each of the NHL’s four divisions facing each other in a three-on-three tournament.

Each NHL team will be represented with at least one player, with the captains from each division voted on in fan balloting. For the Metropolitan Division, the captain is Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. The division-leading Caps will send two other players to the tournament: forward Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby. Capitals coach Barry Trotz will also be coaching the team due to Washington being in first place in the division at the time of the cutoff. Pittsburgh will also be sending two players: forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. The obvious omission here is Sidney Crosby, who has been having a down year. Claude Giroux will represent Philly, Brandon Saad will represent Columbus, Justin Faulk will go for Carolina, John Tavares will represent the Isles and Ryan McDonagh is the Rangers’ representative.

Of interest to Devils fans is the Metro Division’s other netminder: Cory Schneider of New Jersey. Cory beat out other Metro candidates like Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers and Jaroslav Halak of the Islanders. But it cannot be denied that he deserves it. He is ranked fifth in the league amongst all goalies in saves (872), sixth in save percentage (.928), sixth in goals against average (2.07) and sixth in shutouts (3).

But more than his stats, he is the Devils team MVP this year and, arguably, last season too. He helped keep them in games they have had no business being in. Right now, he has the Devils in a playoff spot at the midway point of the season, something no one would have seen coming in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the franchise. Cory makes a good representative for the Devils in the mid-season classic.

It also helps that the Devils have played so well in the new three-on-three overtime format. This gave Cory a leg up on some of the other goalies in the division. He will be a real asset to the Metro Division team with the games being three-on-three. Holtby is going because he has been playing really well for a first place team, so that puts Cory in some good company.

Being chosen for the game as a goalie is not an easy feat, especially when the choices are only confined to your division. The Metro Division is, as I mentioned, loaded with great goalies. Some other goaltenders who will be representing their teams are Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay) and Roberto Luongo (Florida) for the Atlantic Division, Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota) and Pekka Rinne (Nashville) for the Central Division and John Gibson (Anaheim) and Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles) for the Pacific Division.

That is a great group to be lumped in with and Cory has shown that he belongs in the elite of the NHL.

A few other All-Stars with New Jersey roots include Jaromir Jagr, former Devil now playing for the Panthers voted captain of the Atlantic Division (against his wishes) and Salem, New Jersey-native Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary playing for the Pacific Division.

The Devils could have easily sent some other candidates: Mike Cammalleri and Kyle Palmieri have been having good seasons, with Palmieri, in particular, topping his goal-scoring total from previous in his career. But, overall, the team is comfortable with Cory as their sole representative. He was a good choice.

The new format should be a good shot in the arm for the NHL’s All-Star Game and it is nice to see that Cory Schneider will get to be a part of it. Congratulations to Cory!