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Jason Arnott Shoots Up Atlanta

Jason Arnott represented the Nashville Predators admirably in Saturday night's All-Star Skills Competition, participating in both the Shooting Accuracy and Hardest Shot events.

When it came to Accuracy, Arnott hit the targets in each of the four corners of the net in seven shots, best among the Western Conference stars. In the final matchup with Tomas Kaberle of the Maple Leafs (who went 4-for-4 in the first round), Arnott nailed three targets in four shots, which Kaberle then matched. As a tiebreaker they took a single shot each, which Arnott missed and Kaberle hit, giving the Eastern Conference the points in that area.

Arnott was then the first one up for the Hardest Shot, and popped a 100.3 MPH slapper to set the bar high early on. The next several shooters came up short, until Vincent Lecavalier hit 101.9, and Zdeno Chara defended his crown with a 103.1 MPH rocket.

Overall, the Skills Competition had its ups and downs; the Young Stars game was fun to watch, as the rookies skated 3-on-3 and after each goal was scored, the defending team just scooped up the puck and headed up-ice, keeping the pace lively and reminiscent of an up-tempo drop-in game. The Breakaway Challenge event, the new equivalent of the NBA Slam Dunk competition, was pretty much a dud, as sending a player in alone to score on a goalie is hard enough already, without asking them to add creative flare along the way. There were a few valiant attempts, however, by the likes of Marian Gaborik and Ilya Kovalchuk. In particular, Alexander Ovechkin tried to bounce the puck on his stick blade as he came down the ice leading up to a baseball-style swing for the score, but he failed to connect.

Tomorrow brings the All-Star Game itself (5:00 p.m. Central on Versus), which should be a much more entertaining affair. Watching the introduction of the All-Stars this evening, it's striking that even without injured stars like Sid Crosby, there is an eye-popping amount of talent on these two teams. The NHL is enjoying a resurgence of talent on the ice, and young leaders like Ovechkin, Malkin, Kopitar, Getzlaf and Kovalchuk are carving out their own place in the game, while sure-fire Hall of Famers like Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer are still dominating performers.