A look at 10 things to watch during Sunday’s NHL all-star game in Raleigh

RALEIGH, – When the lights come on, will the NHL’s all-star game have any more sizzle than in years past?

That remains the biggest question heading into Sunday afternoon’s game at RBC Center (CBC, 4 p.m. ET). The league’s first-ever player draft was fairly well received on Friday night and could put a little more pride on the line when Team Staal faces Team Lidstrom in the game.

The format change was intended to give the players a more active role in the weekend. They’ve largely seemed to embrace it.

“It makes it a little more interesting than East and West,” said defenceman Marc Staal, who will play alongside brother Eric. “(There’s) a little different dynamic to it. Hopefully it works out to be a good game.”

Here’s a look at 10 things to watch in the all-star game:

1. Jeff Skinner. While all three Hurricanes will get plenty of attention, this event has been a coming out party for the 18-year-old rookie. He’s the youngest player selected to participate in a NHL all-star game and will be looking to deliver something special for the hometown fans. If that happens, he might be elevated to rock star status in Raleigh.

2. Sedin split. It will be the first time in 30 years that Henrik (Team Lidstrom) and Daniel (Team Staal) will face one another in a hockey game. The Swedish stars have welcomed the split and are hoping that they’ll spend a fair amount of time on the ice together. Said Henrik: “It would be fun to have the lines play against each other, that’s for sure.”

3. Steven Stamkos. The NHL’s leader in both goals and points is getting his first taste of the all-star experience this weekend. He and Lightning linemate Martin St. Louis are both members of Team Lidstrom and will likely be part of the same forward unit. It will be interesting to see if he’ll unleash one of his patented one-timers.

4. Blackhawks crew. Pity Patrick Sharp. He’s the only member of the Chicago Blackhawks not on Team Lidstrom—the defending Stanley Cup champions have four representatives in Raleigh—and will face teammates Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith as a result. There has been some trash talking among that group heading in.

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5. Letang/Fleury. The Penguins are also dealing with a split. Defenceman Kris Letang is suiting up for Team Staal while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is a member of Team Lidstrom. Letang is in the midst of his best offensive season and would love to get a goal against his good buddy.

6. Danny Briere. A late injury addition to the event, the Philadelphia Flyers forward will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. He was upset at being left off initially and has brought his three sons (Cameron, Carson and Caelan) down to share in the experience. Briere is also a former all-star MVP, having taken the honours in 2007.

7. Alex Ovechkin. The NHL’s ultimate showman, Ovechkin appears to be having more fun this weekend than he has all season. It’s been a tough year for the Washington Capitals captain, but he has recently shown signs of getting his mojo back. He enjoys the spotlight as much as anyone.

8. The Thunder Bay Three. Eric Staal and brother Marc are naturally getting plenty of attention at the event, but somewhat lost in the hype is the fact they’re sharing a dressing room with another player from their hometown: Sharp. All three were born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ont., and spend some time there in the summers. Perhaps they’ll have some chemistry from the pick-up games.

9. Phil Kessel. The last man picked in Friday’s player draft has a chance to come home from Carolina with two vehicles. He was given a Honda CR-Z and $20,000 for charity after being the last man standing. Expect Kessel to have a bit more motivation to shine in the all-star game as a result, which might give him a shot at winning the MVP award.

10. Goalies. This offensive-minded event is always tough on the men who mind the net. Carolina’s Cam Ward, Montreal’s Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers will each play a period for Team Staal while Boston’s Tim Thomas, Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller and Fleury will see duty for Team Lidstrom. It’s worth noting that Thomas was credited with the win at the last two all-star games.