There was no Sidney Crosby. No Alex Ovechkin. Jonathan Toews wasn't there either.
Yet, for as much as the NHL tried to prevent it, the 2016 All Star Weekend will likely go down as one of the most memorable in league history. Thanks to key moments from Anaheim Ducks representatives Corey Perry, with the game winning goal, and John Gibson, holding off the Atlantic Division in the final half of the championship game, the cinema-quality story of Most Valuable Player John Scott was written on a late-January Sunday in Nashville.
How'd The Ducks Do?
The Skills Competition saw Perry finish second in the Accuracy Shooting event, hitting four of six targets in 13.711 to win his heat against Claude Giroux. Gibson got roasted in his heat of the Shootout, allowing goals on nine of eleven attempts. And there was the fact that outside of Patrick Kane, nobody was booed more than Perry in the pre-event introductions, with the Ducks forward getting booed during the accuracy event as well. Oh well, 'No one likes us, We don't care.'
Come the All Star Game, in the Pacific's opening round game against the Central Division it was as if Perry was a literal representative of the first half of the Ducks season as he was denied on four shots by Devan Dubnyk. Two in particular were breakaways that came on the same shift. Gibson finished with seven saves on ten shots, his save percentage the best of the four goalies in the game, but had a pair of eye-popping plays:
The goal opened scoring for the second half and gave the Pacific a lead they'd never relinquish. The advantage grew as large as 7-3 with 4:28 remaining when Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Seguin snapped off back-to-back goals 13 second apart to cut it in half. With the Central buzzing, Gibson made a game-turning stop:
The quick turn of the rebound by Brent Burns lead to Taylor Hall scoring to make it 8-5, en route to finishing off the preliminary round game with a 9-6 win.
Come the championship game against the Atlantic Division the goalies took center stage in the first half, as Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick played a game of "Can You Top This" in combining to make 22 stops and keep the game scoreless. Facing the imposing Ben Bishop, Perry stepped up at the 3:38 mark:
He had another that was waived off for goalie interference with Hall running in to Bishop, but Gibson made another seven saves to share the shutout and seal the 1-0 win. Also of note, Perry was one of the three skaters on the ice to defend the lead in the final minute of the game facing a four-on-three attack with the Central net empty until the buzzer.
While Perry made not have filled up the scoresheet as much as teammates Daniel Sedin, Johnny Gaudreau, Hall, or Burns, he was dangerous as you'd expect in both games. It was a sweet justice that the Nashville crowd, which refused to embrace Kane despite him playing alongside their home town Predators, ended up cheering their other villain who played an instrumental role in making the dream come true. Gibson finished with saves on 14 of 17 shots, an .823 SV% overall in his first All Star outing, and made a couple of poised saves to hold the lead down the stretch.
The John Scott Show
From the moment he skated out to the largest cheers of the afternoon during introductions, to his pair of goals in the preliminary game, to his MVP selection, this game and weekend was all about Scott. Really, for getting the opportunity to tell his story of becoming a pro, having to deal with the league doing everything they could to prevent him from partaking, then getting the ultimate wish fulfillment, it was a magical moment for hockey and hockey fans. The moments tell the story:
MVP chants with Scott on the ice. Amazing. #NHLAllStar— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) February 1, 2016
John Scott's reaction to being named the MVP "Who me?" pic.twitter.com/kkDI85mazO— CAPITALS HILL (@CapitalsHill) February 1, 2016
There will probably never be another All Star game story like Scott's, but that's okay. In an era where All Star games have become eminently forgettable, this one will be remembered forever.
First and foremost- the new three-on-three format was a rousing success. It may have been the cash prize on the line, it may have been the extra space on the ice, but the game was played with more of an edge than any All Star Game in recent memory. Players actually backchecked, put sticks in passing lanes, and in general played a game that more closely resembles the sport rather than the listless slog it had become.
We'll see how long this lasts, but perhaps another point is with just three players on the ice, it's much easier to see who's not putting in even minimal effort to defend or make things happen. It could also be the format of being a mini-tournament with three 20 minute games gives players the opportunity to play something outside the norm of the 82 competitions they'll play for the rest of the regular season that inspires more competition.
The 'Scott Factor' can't be ignored either, because it was readily apparent during the weekend and in the build up that while the league may not have supported it, the players wholly embraced Scott's presence. The league used to have a Commissioner's Selection in the 90's that honored retiring players, getting the likes of Randy Carlyle, Dave Taylor, Craig MacTavish, Dale Hunter, Slava Fetisov, and Igor Larionov the opportunity to play in the All Star Game in the twilight of their careers.
Perhaps something like this could be reintroduced, or reconfigured in a way that allowed fans to select a designated "grinder/hard worker" type player for each squad. While it's ostensibly "All Stars", the way it's currently defined just seems to encompass the players that generate the most offense; what would be wrong with determining/honoring those who are the best at the gritty stuff? With the hardcore nature of many hockey fans, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to ask them to vote for a lower six/third pair, 'lunchpail'-type player as well.
This was a fun All Star Game, and certainly has all the makings of being the most memorable of its generation. The Ducks players held vital roles in making sure the day had the happy ending, but it was the fans, and in turn John Scott, that made it truly a storybook.