Ottawa - You can't expect the NHL All-Star Game to be a compelling, white-knuckle affair. Sure, the score might be close at the end, but drama is not the order of the day. When Ryan Suter and Kimmo Timonen look like pylons on a first period goal, you know something's amiss. So let's get that out of the way and analyze the 2012 edition in Ottawa for what it is: an exhibition, not a competition.
Specifically, the All-Star Game is an exhibition of the skills possessed by the future and present in the league and in that regard, this match did not disappoint.
Sunday afternoon was about back-to-back No. 1 draft picks Steven Stamkos and John Tavares showing off the hands and offensive determination that will make them NHL cornerstones in the very near future. Stamkos even fought through a Dion Phaneuf hook in the first period to take a shot from his knees (Stamkos was awarded a penalty shot nonetheless).
But it was also about the more experienced players proving they won't take a backseat to the young bucks just yet. After yielding three goals in a half-period of work, Henrik Lundqvist got noticeably feistier in his Team Alfredsson crease and shut the door the rest of the way. Of course, it was veteran Blueshirts teammate-turned-Team Chara adversary Marian Gaborik who torched 'The King' first, then dumped some good-natured salt in the wound by re-enacting the famous Artem Anisimov stick-rifle celebration that almost caused a riot when the Rangers played Tampa earlier this season. Marian Hossa was a force all night (his moves in the third bewitched defender Erik Karlsson and led to the goal of the game), while Gaborik's set-up man on that opening goal was Pavel Datsyuk, one of the most highly-regarded players in the league and a talent his colleagues love to watch. Maybe it's because he can catch an airborne puck on the blade of his stick while in motion and act like it's no big deal. Because he did that.
Datsyuk's smart enough not to do something like that in a normal game, which is why the all-star tilt is fun: Those little elite moves guys only do after practice when they're goofing around can finally be revealed to the adoring public.
Of course, the big payoff for the host fans is seeing their favorite players on a big stage and Ottawa had an easily-crowned king in franchise god Daniel Alfredsson. Captaining the home team, Alfie netted a pair against Montreal rival Carey Price in the second period, with a little help from Vancouver's Sedin twins. After the first tally, the crowd gave him a rousing ovation (which Alfie acknowledged) that seemed like more of a career celebration than simply happiness over a single score by the 39-year-old stalwart.
As for the entertainment, the NHL actually got it right this year. By drafting ginormous hip hop star (and proud Canadian) Drake as the main act, the league managed to snag a current artist in the spotlight who appeals to the young folks and all their wonderful disposable income. NHL marketing has come so far in such a short amount of time and Drake put a blanket over the recent Chaka Khan/Michael Buble-but-not-Michael Buble-singing fiascos at other NHL events.
The best confirmation for the NHL? About a third of the players foresook their dressing room time during the second intermission in order to watch Drake from the ice.
In the end, Team Chara got the win, Marian Gaborik got the car as game MVP and the fans got a fun show. And that's all you can really ask for in an All-Star Game, isn't it?
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.