One of the most exciting aspects of an All-Star Game is the mystery it provides. Fans know they'll be seeing the top players in the League, but with most of them not used to playing with one another, it can be tough for even the most astute hockey aficionados to determine which group of All-Stars is likely to prevail when the NHL's best take the ice. Throw in the wrench of the NHL's Fantasy Player Draft and the picture gets even more muddled – the teams aren’t even determined until less than 72 hours before the puck drops, and there are instances in which players who are teammates in real life wind up on opposing teams.
But EA Sports has an idea.
As soon as Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara were done picking their rosters Thursday night in Ottawa, EA Sports was on the case putting its simulation to work. Once the requisite number crunching was finished, several All-Stars had distinguished themselves, but it was an MVP performance by Philadelphia's Claude Giroux
that eventually made the difference, as a late rally lifted Team Alfredsson to a 12-10 victory.
All-Star Games are known for their offense, and if EA's computers are right, it won't take much time for the scoring to start this time around, as NHL goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos is the first player to light the lamp just 1:33 after the opening faceoff. Team Chara doesn't waste time knotting up the score, however, as Patrick Kane scores a goal just 21 seconds later. In fact, after falling behind 1-0, Team Chara scores three of the next four goals courtesy of Kane, Marian Gaborik -- his first of two on the day -- and Marian Hossa.
With that kind of momentum, Team Chara could have been on the hinge of breaking the game open, but Team Alfredsson was rescued by an unlikely hero. Logan Couture seemed perfectly comfortable accepting his car Thursday night as the last player picked in the Fantasy Draft; in EA's simulation it's Couture who scores to tie up the game at 13:56 of the first. Late in the period, Stamkos puts his second tally of the game into the net to give Team Alfredsson a 4-3 lead at the first intermission.
In the second period, it's Team Chara that gets off to the fast start, as Jarome Iginla ties the game up just 53 seconds in, but the game then becomes a stalemate, with the two sides trading scores three times to keep the game square. With just 20 seconds to go in the period, however, Brian Campbell does for Team Chara what he's done all season. In his first season in Florida, Campbell has an impressive 32 assists in 48 games -- and right before the second intermission he gets another one, setting up Corey Perry to give Team Chara an 8-7 lead.
In the third period, Team Alfredsson's John Tavares scores 3:36 in to tie the game up, but after each team trades goals once again, the last pick in the 2011 Fantasy Draft leaves his mark on the 2012 game, as Phil Kessel scores with 5:58 to go in the game to give Team Chara a 10-9 lead. Of course in an All-Star Game, nearly six minutes without a goal is unusual, and according to EA, Sunday's game in Ottawa won't be starting any trends.
With 3:14 to go in regulation, Giroux ties the game on a feed from Daniel Sedin at 10-10. The goal gives Giroux his fourth point of the game and sets up a wild finish.
A year ago Daniel Sedin and twin brother Henrik played on opposite teams for the first time since they entered the NHL, but reunited this time around, the twins have brought their chemistry with them to Team Alfredsson. Having already teamed up by both assisting on a goal by Vancouver teammate Alex Edler in the second, the Sedins do it again just 15 seconds after Giroux evens the score, as Henrik sets up Daniel with 2:59 to go for the game-winner. As an appropriate cap to the event in Ottawa, EA has Jason Spezza setting up his Senators teammate and All-Star captain Alfredsson for a game-sealing empty-netter with 15 seconds left in regulation.
While Giroux steals the show for Team Alfredsson, Daniel Sedin isn't far behind with a goal and two assists on the afternoon. In a losing effort, Team Chara has plenty of impressive performances of its own, as Kessel, Perry, Kane and Iginla all finish with a goal and an assist in EA's simulation.
If the simulation engine has its way, All-Star Weekend will be in for a wild conclusion when Team Alfredsson and Team Chara take the ice in Ottawa, but there's only one way to see if EA's prediction comes to fruition. EA, the NHL and the fans will get their answers Sunday afternoon.
Author: David Kalan | NHL.com Staff Writer