Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Gonchar and Mike Gartner have some things in common.
Each of them has donned the Washington Capitals uniform. Each has been selected to participate in previous All-Star games. And each participated in the all-star celebration while playing for the Capitals. Ovechkin and Braden Holtby represented the Capitals this year in Los Angeles at the 2017 Honda All-Star Weekend. For the skills competition, Ovechkin was a shooter in the one-timer drill, while Holtby faced Carey Price in the goaltender shootout. It is not the first time Ovechkin or Holtby played in the midseason party.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 30, 2017
Fun in the Shootout
Ovechkin tripped – or so it appeared – skating toward the net at the Bell Centre in 2009 during his first attempt, but tried again. He came down, deked one-two-three and flipped the puck between his legs but over the net. During his third attempt, Ovechkin skated in on the goalie but lost control of the puck. At that point, he decided enough was enough, and fellow countryman and rival, Evgeni Malkin, outfit Ovechkin with sunglasses, a hat with a Canadian flag stuck in it and shot water into Ovechkin’s mouth, jokingly preparing him for his final attempt. Ovechkin, while utilizing a stick in each hand, squeaked the puck into the net in an entertaining piece that fans still enjoy to this day.
The showman provided some more flair two years later in Raleigh, N.C. when he used the shaft of his stick to carry the puck down the ice on the breakaway challenge. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury – to tease Ovechkin – dropped horizontally, but Ovechkin countered with a fluent backhand deke and slid the rubber past the sprawled Fleury.
Nicklas Backstrom joined Ovechkin and Holtby in the festivities one year ago. Backstrom showed off his smooth hands during the passing portion of the skills relay challenge. After a few tries on the first one, the playmaker flew through the obstacle. Holtby finished off for the team. Last season was the first year that Backstrom was named an NHL all-star. Considering he has registered more than 60 points in eight seasons, Backstrom was snubbed a couple of times, including in 2010 when he finished fourth in league scoring with 101 points. Even though lineups are created based on fan votes, Backstrom has statistically been all-star and this year has been no different. His 47 points lead the Capitals, and he is ranked 10th in point leaders across the league. Holtby’s appearance last year was his first.
Helter Skelter Hockey Memories
In the early 2000s, the NHL divided all-stars based on their home countries. Sergei Gonchar, hailing from Russia, played for Team World in 2001 NHL All-Star Game. The score looked more like a tightly contested football game than a hockey competition. Team North America narrowly defeated Gonchar and Team World, 14-12, and Gonchar had two assists.
Al Iafrate, who was a member of the Capitals from 1991-1994, won the inaugural hardest shot competition in 1990. He set the record at 105.2 in 1993 that held up for 16 years. Iafrate made a habit of using his slap shot even if it was on a breakaway. If Iafrate used a new stick with the revolutionary materials and flex used today, he may still be the record holder.
Mike Gartner, who amassed 789 points in 758 games for Washington through the 1980s, played in the 1988 All-Star Game in St. Louis, MO. Back then, teams were determined based on what conference players played within. Gartner scored 4:28 into the second period for the Wales Conference to tie the game 2-2. Mario Lemieux led the Wales Conference to a 6-5 victory over the Campbell Conference.
Larry Murphy made his first All-Star appearance as a member of the Capitals one year earlier. Murphy posted the second-best season of his career while donning the white and red sweater. He produced 81 points (23 goals and 58 assists), was a plus-25. Murphy and Gartner played in the infamous Easter Eve playoff game as teammates and Gartner scored first in the game.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) January 29, 2017
As the Capitals look to the future, youngsters like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andrew Burakovsky are likely candidates for upcoming all-star festivities. Kuznetsov posts 37 points to rank third on the team in scoring. Last year, the Russian playmaker Washington’s point leader with 77 points. Teams are becoming familiar wth Kuznetsov’s signature behind-the-net-no-look-backhand pass. Kuznetsov will soon think of something else to dazzle opponents because he is creative and is encouraged to shoot more this year. Fellow budding star, Burakovsky, is 11 points away from tying his season total of yesteryear. The stretches when Burakovsky is quiet on the score sheet comes in bunches. He had nasty stretch earlier this season. However, he has rebounded and has 8 points in the last five games.
In a few years, we might see players skate a shift together in the 3-on-3 All-Star tournament while Holtby guards the pipes. Ovechkin-Backstrom-Burakovsky or Backstrom-Kuznetsov-Ovechkin or any other combination that coaches see fit.
We can be assured that the Capitals will continue to have fun at future All-Star Games. For his next surprise, Ovechkin might pick a fan to shoot for him during the shootout.
Michael Mazzuca graduated from The University of Scranton with a degree in journalism and electronic media. Mike began writing for The Hockey Writers in December 2016. He has written for the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as well as the Rockland Boulders independent baseball team. Follow him on Twitter at @MazzucaMike.