- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 30, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Evgeny Kuznetsov said on Friday that the cowboy hat he was photographed wearing at the start of last season was left behind in Calgary.

He found another.

Kuznetsov, eager to show a more playful side, broke out a straw hat and a pair of novelty sunglasses for his second of two shots during the anything-goes breakaway challenge in the All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday night.

With a bumper sticker stuck to the front of the hat — “I’ve been honky tonkin’ on Broadway,” it read — the Washington Capitals’ center couldn’t finish the challenge like he wanted. After he dropped the puck while juggling during his first attempt, he began powering up for the second shot by guzzling a Pepsi poured down his throat by teammate Nicklas Backstrom.

Then, Kuznetsov donned the cowboy hat and the blue-rimmed sunglasses, printed with a red-and-white guitar on the lenses, before skating to the red line. There, he stared down Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, who matched Kuznetsov’s flair by substituting his stick with a guitar and managed to turn back the shot.

“I wanted to do some more because Nick say you can do something [fun],” Kuznetsov said. “But, it’s OK, you know? No chance I’m going to win against [P.K.] Subban or [Brent] Burns. These guys are amazing. I was just trying to make something, but it’s OK, you know? I still have fun.”

Kuznetsov’s antics paid tribute to Alex Ovechkin, who put on a bucket hat adorned with a Canadian flag and a pair of sunglasses, then downed a squirt of Gatorade, in winning the breakaway challenge in Montreal in 2009.

He said he told Ovechkin of his plan in advance in a series of text messages, and Ovechkin, who was originally selected to participate in the weekend’s events but backed out because of an injury, approved the plan as long as Kuznetsov brought him back hats and jerseys.

“It’s good I try something like that,” Kuznetsov said.

The Eastern Conference won the night’s event, which means the New York Islanders’ John Tavares and the Florida Panthers’ Jaromir Jagr, the team captains, will be able to decide if they want to play first or second in Sunday’s three-on-three tournament.

Backstrom, Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby played a large role in their team’s success. Backstrom, who joked on Friday that he would choose something having to do with passing if he could invent a competition for the event, was on point with his designated tasks.

He and Jagr helped Tavares win the accuracy shooting contest, and during the team-wide skills challenge relay, he needed just eight shots — three, one, one and three — to get a puck into four different targets between 30 and 50 feet away.

“Once you get up there, too, the nets get a lot smaller,” Backstrom said. “It was hard.”

Kuznetsov nearly matched him in accuracy in that competition, taking six attempts to hit the first target, then needing just one on each of the last three, in the second round.

And, Holtby handled his tasks, making two shots to conclude the first round of the relay and then stopping eight of nine attempts in the rapid-fire shootout contest that concluded the night.

“At least there was a little spacing in between it,” Holtby said. “I thought they were going to come one after another. It was all right. It wasn’t exactly fun going in cold, but you have to do it. You just try to stop [them].”

Though Holtby was the only goaltender who handled the shooting with ease, that his first two saucer passes found the back of the net wasn’t at all that impressive to Kuznetsov.

“I know he going to shoot pretty good because he can shoot like me,” Kuznetsov joked. “He play very well with his stick.”

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