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With champs and the experience, Central driving force of ASG

Keith Jones, Ben Lovejoy and Kathryn Tappen preview the 2020 NHL All-Star Game and predict whether or not a player will score a hat trick at the upcoming event.

If experience matters, the Central Division will have an edge at the NHL All-Star Game Saturday night in St. Louis.

Only two of its 11 players, winger David Perron and Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, are playing in this event for the first time. This squad features six players who have played in three or more All-Star Games.

Each of its selected players is expected to play at Enterprise Center, led by captain Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane.

The other division teams include multiple substitutions and one fill-in coach, with Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet taking over the Pacific Division team from fired Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant.

The Central squad will also feature a home-ice advantage while deploying four Blues, including defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and center Ryan O’Reilly. Blues coach Craig Berube is at its helm.

“You want to come home, be the champion, especially in our building,” O’Reilly said. “There’s four of us. The feeling kind of rises. Let’s give the fans what they want. They want to see our division be the strongest division.”

On the down side for the Central team, neither goaltender comes into this competition on a roll. Binnington has a 3.57 goals-against average and an .865 save percentage in six January starts while Winnipeg Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck is 3-5-1 this month with a 3.29 GAA and .898 percentage.

On-ice chemistry could also give the Pacific squad an edge. Tocchet can ride the dynamic duo of Edmonton Oilers forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

“I’ll talk to a couple of guys to see who they want to play with, but I’m sure Draisaitl and McDavid, I’ll stay out of their way on that one.” Tocchet said.

He can also feature forward/defenseman teammate combinations with Matthew Tkachuk and Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames and Elias Pettersson with Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks.

“I like to play something for competition, not for nothing,” Tocchet said. “I don’t want players to get hurt. I think you have to have competitive juices in there. I’m not sure that you want 3-on-0s going back and forth. Maybe 2-on-1s, that’s fine. But not 3-on-0.”

The Metropolitan Division suffered the most casualties for this game. Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin opted not to play and forwards Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers), Jake Guentzel (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Kyle Palmieri (New Jersey Devils) bowed out due to injuries.

Also missing from the Metropolitan squad due to injuries are defenseman Dougie Hamilton (Carolina Hurricanes) and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (Columbus Blue Jackets).

“It’s tough to look at a team and say, ‘Oh, they’re a little bit weaker’ or anything like that,” O’Reilly said. “You have the elite of the elite. It’s going to be tough.”

The Atlantic Division team lost Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews to a wrist injury. Ottawa Senator forward Brady Tkachuk replaced Matthews, who is tied for second in the NHL with 34 goals this season.

“You want to compete out there and participate,” said Matthews, who came to St. Louis to participate in off-ice activities. “Getting a couple of extra days to heal and rest is important, but I think it was also important for me to be here. It’s a big honor to be selected for the All-Star Game.”