NASHVILLE, Tenn. — All-Star Games are designed to create unfamiliar situations, after all, but the NHL’s 2016 edition will be remembered for far more of them than usual.
Sure, there was that new three-on-three format, which was a big hit, and the spectacle of a guy who in real life plays for the St. John’s (Newfoundland) IceCaps scoring two goals and being named MVP, which was an even bigger hit.
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But how about this: Metropolitan Division coach Barry Trotz decided to start three team captains for his mini game against the Atlantic on Sunday, which meant partnering the Flyers’ Claude Giroux with John Tavares and Ryan McDonagh.
Yes, that would be the Islanders’ John Tavares and the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh.
“I had to get used to it a little bit,” Tavares joked of playing alongside a Ranger. “But Ryan’s a great player . . . I’m sure we’ll have many battles for years to come, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him and it was fun to be out there on the same side this time.”
McDonagh said of Tavares and Giroux: “They don’t need to see where the puck is going. They’ve got eyes everywhere. It’s good to be on their side for once, as a change.”
Tavares and McDonagh each had two shots on goal but no points in the Metropolitan’s 4-3 loss to the Atlantic. In the other semifinal, the Pacific beat the Central, 9-6, helped by those two goals by minor-leaguer John Scott.
In the final, the Pacific — captained by Scott — secured the winners’ pot of $1 million by defeating the Atlantic, 1-0, on a goal by the Ducks’ Corey Perry with 6:22 left. The Kings’ Jonathan Quick and Ducks’ John Gibson shut out the Atlantic, making 17 saves between them.
The final score was a shock, given how loosely these games traditionally are played, and validated an experiment that players universally praised.
The idea was to increase the competitiveness and integrity of the event while maintaining the many scoring chances that are part of it. Three-on-three hockey mostly avoids the hitting that no one wants any part of in exhibition games yet allows the players to display their skills. Even goalies!
“It was pretty game-like out there,” McDonagh said. “It puts [players] on guard a little bit more. You can’t just go out there and float around.”
Said Tavares: “It was a lot more competitive, for sure. You’re forced to skate more and the chances that are created are obviously exciting.
“I think you could tell the guys wanted to pick up the pace from the last couple of years and make it competitive and make it fun and try to put on a good show.”