NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The 2016 All-Star Game was a success.
The new format featured 3-on-3 play in a division tournament structure. And both Pens participants – center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang – gave the game their seal of approval.
“It’s much more fun and better than 5-on-5,” said Malkin following the Metro’s 4-3 loss to the Atlantic. “It’s not tough. It’s 20 minutes. There is more emotion. It’s a new format and everyone likes it. We should play it next year too.”
“It was pretty cool,” Letang said. “I think being part of a couple of those other All-Star Games, the intensity was better.
"It was something close to what we do during the season and I thought the intensity was pretty good, especially at the end when we were trying to score a goal."
Malkin and Letang were teamed with Pittsburgh-native and Columbus Blue Jacket Brandon Saad. And both figured in on the scoresheet.
Letang opened the scoring, and has the notoriety of being the first player ever to score in the 3-on-3 version. Malkin entered the zone and dropped the puck to Letang, who then sniped his shot into the top corner.
“I was pretty happy,” Letang said. “A little bit nervous at the beginning. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out. But it was fun. It was a great pass by ‘Geno.’”
“He said ‘I can’t shoot, I can’t shoot.’ But his first shot he scored,” Malkin joked.
Malkin also scored, and what a beauty it was.
Saad took the puck from his goal line and saw Malkin streaking. He hit him with a pass to give Malkin a breakaway.
First, Malkin tried to flip the puck, but it nearly got away from him. So he recollected it, did a spin-o-rama at the goal mouth and then lifted a backhander past a sprawled-out Ben Bishop.
“When I took the puck I wanted to flip it a couple times. But I lost it and was like ‘oh (no),’” Malkin said. “Because it was too close to the goalie and I had no chance to shoot, I knew I’d do a spin-o-rama. I think (Bishop) helped me. He gave me the goal.”
The Metro Division pulled their goaltender to get the extra attacker in the final minutes and Letang had a chance to tie it. Letang had a breakaway, but was unable to lift the puck and was stopped by Bishop.
“I saw him closing the lower part (of the net) and I tried to go up and I fanned on it,” Letang said. “But I had a couple chances. I hit the crossbar too. All kinds of chances out there and I didn’t bury it.”
Malkin was not pleased with his Pittsburgh teammate.
“I was so mad. I said ‘why didn’t you score,’” Malkin joked. “He said, ‘I tried.’”
Both Malkin and Letang appreciated being apart of the All-Star Weekend festivities.
“I’m happy to be here,” Malkin said. “It’s a good city. A lot of good country music. I met a famous guy. I have no idea who he is, but he’s famous. It was a really fun time. It’s a good life for me and my girlfriend. We’re excited to be here.”
“It meant a lot, honestly,” Letang said. “It’s an honor to represent my team and represent myself too as a guy that went through all this. Being able to be next to those legends, like (Jaromir) Jagr and those All-Stars, it was pretty cool.”
Now it’s time for the two to return to Pittsburgh and gear up for the second half of the season.
“We have a good group of guys. We’ve been playing a lot better,” Letang said. “We have a great goaltender. ‘Sid’ (Sidney Crosby) is doing an unbelievable job right now, he’s playing really well. Geno too. We have a lot more structure and we’re playing a lot better.