ATLANTA Nicklas Lidstrom's 10th All-Star appearance brought out a smile that belied what has become routine for the topflight Detroit defenseman.
Joe Thornton is back for his fifth, and seemed miffed that anyone would pass up the chance to show off their talent in the ultimate hockey exhibition.
Sidney Crosby and Lidstrom's Red Wings teammate Henrik Zetterberg were in line to start tonight in the NHL All-Star game, but injuries made that impossible. The elected goalies: New Jersey's Martin Brodeur for the Eastern Conference, and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo out West turned down invitations due to family commitments.
A four-day break in the hectic 82-game schedule is a luxury that comes about just once a season, and the chance to spend it away from the rink is sometimes too much to give up.
The skills competition highlighted Saturday's portion of the weekend, leading up to the game on Sunday telecast on Versus for the second straight year.
"I don't really think it's too big of a problem," Thornton, a San Jose Sharks forward, said of the absences. "Most of the All-Stars are here and we enjoy the weekend. If there are a couple of guys who don't want to enjoy the weekend, it's purely up to them."
In addition to the four starters voted in by fans who didn't make it to Atlanta, four others also pulled out after the full rosters were announced.
BEECH BACK TO PENGUINS: The Pittsburgh Penguins reacquired forward Kris Beech on a waiver claim Saturday, the fourth NHL team for Beech this month.
Beech, first picked up by the Penguins in the 2001 trade that sent Jaromir Jagr to Washington, was claimed on waivers from the Capitals. Beech began the season with the Blue Jackets' Syracuse farm club before being called up by Columbus, getting four goals and five assists in 16 games before being waived.