San Jose's Thornton happy to be All-Star

ATLANTA -- San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton is back for his fifth All-Star appearance, and seemed miffed that anyone would pass up the chance to show off their talent in the ultimate hockey exhibition.

Nicklas Lidstrom's 10th nod brought out a smile that belied what has become routine for the top-flight Detroit defenseman.

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 today -- telecast on Versus for the second year in a row.

"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.

"It's still fun going to the weekend," said Lidstrom, a five-time Norris Trophy winner. "I've got my two little kids here. They've had a chance to meet some of the newer, younger players coming into the league. So I still enjoy coming to these games."

Crosby was missed the most Saturday when the teams held rocking early morning practices on the All-Star ice in front of thousands of enthusiastic children. But judging from the cheers, squeals, and deafening roars, the performance by the Jonas Brothers more than made up for it.

No one faulted the Pittsburgh Penguins captain from being absent as his high ankle sprain is expected to keep him out for much longer than this weekend and for many more important games.

Yet, the term "face of the league" followed his name in most every discussion about the 20-year-old phenom.

"For better or for worse, when you play an All-Star game in the middle of a season in a sport where injuries are a fact of life, this is going to happen," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "I am sure Sidney misses being here as much as we miss him being here."

Still, the show must go on.

SKILLS, STARS -- Alex Ovechkin won the breakaway challenge in the NHL's SuperSkills competition, leading the Eastern Conference to a 9-6 victory over the West in the preview to the All-Star game.

The East took the YoungStars' game 7-6 behind Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky and Washington's Nicklas Backstrom, who scored two goals apiece in the three-on-three matchup involving players 25 and younger.