NASHVILLE – The Penguins’ All-Star representatives Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang participated in the Skills Competition on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena. They helped the Eastern Conference beat the West, 29-12.
FAVORITE MOMENT? Malkin: “When I missed the third (target). I went 3-for-3 and I can’t believe I missed. Just by a little bit, but it’s tough to see I missed. But next year, maybe.” Letang: “‘Geno’ trying to get the crowd going when he was doing the targets.”
FUNNIEST MOMENT? Malkin: “I think it was Subban changing his haircut, taking Jagr’s haircut. Taking Jagr’s hair and same gear. It was everything – black pants, helmet. I don’t know where he found it, but it was very funny. Lots of funny moments tonight.” Letang: “There were a couple funny moments like Brent Burns with the kids and Chewbacca. That was pretty funny.”
WHO WAS BETTER IN THE BREAKAWAY CHALLENGE – SAN JOSE'S BRENT BURNS OR MONTREAL'S P.K. SUBBAN? Malkin: “I think P.K., because he’s funny and he scored. His first one, he flipped the puck 10 times I think. It’s hard and he scored a goal, it’s not easy.” Letang: "Both guys did a good job bringing some cool ideas."
WHAT WERE THE CONVERSATIONS LIKE ON THE ICE? Malkin: “All the players are funny and all the players are amazing guys. They understand how hard we work all season. Couple days to break, they support each other, it’s a couple good stories, it’s a good time and it’s all fun.” Letang: “I had a chance to chat with a couple of guys. I had a chance to chat with (Leo) Komarov, who said sorry for the hit from behind that he gave me. It was pretty cool. He came to me and said, ‘I’m sorry about that hit.’ I said it’s part of the game. I’ve done it to other people. That’s the way it goes.”
OVERALL, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE ATMOSPHERE? Malkin: “It was very good. It’s Nashville, it’s always good. I remember when we play against Nashville, it’s always a good crowd. The fans love hockey here and it’s a good town for hockey. It’s amazing.” Letang: “They were pretty good with John Scott, (Brent Burns’) kids, the costumes, PK. A lot of guys can bring the crowd into it with their personalities. That’s why the crowd got into it.”
Here’s a breakdown of each Penguins player's event…
DRAFTKINGS NHL ACCURACY SHOOTING Malkin said at Friday’s player media availability that he wanted to give a pass to his hero Jaromir Jagr and have him score. Tonight, the opposite happened.
During the Accuracy Shooting challenge, Jagr and Evgeny Kuznetsov stood at the sides of the net with pucks at their side and sent passes to the Penguins center, who then tried to hit a target in each corner.
Malkin calmly collected the first pass from Jagr, lined up his shot, and hit the bottom left target. One for one. Malkin received the second pass from Kuznetsov, again patiently lined up his shot and this time, hit the upper right target. Same thing for the bottom right. Three for three.
After getting his fourth pass, this time Malkin stopped to wave his glove to get the crowd going. And once they responded, Malkin lined up his shot … and missed. Malkin laughed and shook his head, getting that upper right target on the second try. Four for five. Not bad.
“Maybe if I didn’t do that maybe I score, or maybe not, who knows,” Malkin laughed afterward. “It’s all right, I’ve won before. Of course I want to win, but it’s 3-for-3 after three shots. A little bit mad, but it’s fine. I think fans love it. Really good crowd after my shot and five shots, four goals, it’s fine too.”
All in all, it took Malkin 16.179 seconds to hit all four targets, beating Jamie Benn’s time of 16.664 by a half second.
AMP ENERGY HARDEST SHOT In this event, Malkin was in a head-to-head matchup with another Dallas Star. This time, Tyler Seguin was his opponent. He went first, registering in the low 90s. Malkin went second and picked up a flat 97.0 on his first try.
Seguin’s second shot registered lower than that – which meant Malkin had won the heat no matter what his second time was (which was 94.1, for those wondering). But still, Malkin wasn’t happy.
“I wanted 100. Mad again,” Malkin joked. “First one is 97 and I wanted to try to shoot harder on the second one. One hundred, it’s my dream. I’ve never done it before. It was so close. But maybe I’m a little bit tired after the first. Maybe next year. I want 100 for sure.”
Either way, Malkin was thankful he didn’t have to go up against Shea Weber – Nashville’s captain with the absolute rocket shot who holds the all-time record in this event. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, he shot a puck through a net, for goodness sake’s.
“No, never,” Malkin said of someday beating Weber’s time. “I can’t believe he’s (at) 108.1, it’s the hardest shot in the NHL.”
BRIDGESTONE NHL FASTEST SKATER When I asked Patric Hornqvist a few weeks ago if Carl Hagelin was the fastest skater in the NHL, he laughed.
“I think so,” he said. “Him and Tanger. I would love seeing them out there (to) see who’s faster.”
While we didn’t actually get a chance to see them on the ice together, we did get to see Letang participate in the Fastest Skater competition – which Hagelin won in 2012 as a member of the New York Rangers – and were able to compare the times.
That year, Hagelin won with a time of 13.218. This year, Letang finished with a time of 14.081. Still way faster than any of us could ever dream to skate. This is Letang’s third All-Star appearance, and he’s participated in this event each time. As Trib Total Media’s Jonathan Bombulie pointed out, he’s gotten faster every year.
“I was stiff,” Letang smiled of this year’s performance. “I’m waiting 2, 3 hours in the tunnel and then trying not to blow your groin out. You just try to warm up a little bit more every year.
Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin won the event with a time of 12.894.
“Impressive,” Letang said of Larkin. “I was next to Geno when he was skating that full lap and the way he was crossing over and gaining speed, it was really impressive.”
SKILLS CHALLENGE RELAY – PUCK CONTROL In this timed relay event – which involved 14 skaters and two goalies from each team – Letang participated in Puck Control, where the skater with the puck had to weave through a series of cones.
The other events were One Timers, with three shooters and one passer per team; Passing, with one passer per team; Stick-Handling, with one skater per team; and Goalie Goals, with one goalie per team.
There were two heats, with the East going against the West each time. Unfortunately, when it was Letang’s turn he lost the puck partway through and had to go back.
DISCOVER NHL SHOOTOUT Here were the rules for this event: “18 skaters and three goaltenders from each team will participate in the three-round shootout. During each two-minute round, six skaters and one goalie from each team will take the ice. Teams will alternate after each shot with each player having a maximum of 10 seconds to take a shot. Players 1 and 3 from each team will be designated Discover puck players, each goal scored by these players will count as two points.”
Malkin was one of the Discover puck players along with PK Subban during his round, which was the first. Malkin went twice. On his first attempt, he went wide, cut in and beat Minnesota Wild goaltender Devin Dubnyk short side.
On his second attempt, Malkin scored a filthy goal on a gorgeous wrister. However, afterward Malkin downplayed his success.
“It’s not real because it’s a goalie who sits two hours, maybe,” Malkin said. “They don’t warm up, they’re not ready. I’m the first guy who did the shootout and just shoot my two shots. It’s a surprise to me too. I can’t believe I scored two goals.”
Letang went in the third round and was unable to convert either of his attempts.