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NHL.com Blogs From All-Star

Thursday, 01.22.2009 / 3:20 PM / Features
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NHL.com Blogs From All-Star
Will Alex Ovechkin be named? How about Marc Savard? Then there\'s Nicklas Lidstrom and Joe Thornton. In other words, there are plenty of worthy candidates to fill out the All-Star rosters.
While waiting for the YoungStars to show up here at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth for their media availability, I had to do some research on a few players I plan to speak to for stories.

Blake Wheeler and Steven Stamkos are my targets, so I scoured the internet looking up the current news on each player. I know enough to wing an interview with them, but by reading the hometown papers you get a better feel for what is going on with the player.

I'm hoping Wheeler and Stamkos are open and honest with me because they each have a pretty darn good story to tell.



NHL Network's
2009 NHL All-Star broadcasts
All streamed live on NHL.com

Thursday, Jan. 22
12-2pm ET
NHL Live Simulcast

7-9pm ET 
NHL Network Presents Live From All-Star - Coaches Roundtable

Friday, Jan. 23
12-2pm ET
NHL Live Simulcast

5-7pm ET 
NHL Network Presents Live From All-Star - Meet The Players

Saturday, Jan. 24
10am-noon ET
NHL Network Presents Live From All-Star - Practice Coverage

4pm-5:30pm ET
NHL Network Presents Live From All-Star - Red Carpet Show

Post Skills
NHL Network Presents Live From All-Star - Honda SuperSkills Post-Show

Sunday, Jan. 25
4pm-5:30pm ET
NHL Network Presents Live From All-Star - All-Access Pre-Game Show

Post-Game
NHL Network Presents Live From All-Star - All-Access Post-Game Show

Wheeler, as you probably already know, has turned into a sensation in Boston after he was the surprise of training camp. The general consensus was he would have to play in Providence of the American Hockey League this season as he acclimates himself to the pro game, but he has instead played in all 47 Bruins' games this season and has 30 points to show for it.

The former University of Minnesota center is now the Bruins' second line left wing, playing mostly with Michael Ryder and David Krejci. Wheeler and Krejci have also been formidable penalty killers in the absence of Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm.

The Bruins top line, when healthy, is unequivocally their best with Marc Savard centering Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic. However, since Kessel has been out with mono and Lucic with a shoulder injury -- that's why he's not going to be here today for the YoungStars media availability -- the second line has been providing some great offensive pop.

Wheeler is playing a big part on it, but there'll be more to come on him later in story form.

As for Stamkos, I am very curious to get his opinion on his recent stints in the press box as a healthy scratch. Some may just assume that since he's been a healthy scratch the No. 1 pick is falling flat on his face.

Totally not the case at all.

Instead, it appears that Rick Tocchet has figured out a plan for the 19-year-old center. Tocchet is making Stamkos a healthy scratch on an occasional basis so he gets more time to train and more time to watch the games. He has to go up to the press box, takes notes, and then go over them the following day with assistant coach Wes Walz in a "classroom setting."

I think it's brilliant, and it could turn into a technique a lot of teams use with young players, especially ones with as much promise as Stamkos.

-- Dan Rosen


This is 'Hockey Town'
Jan. 22, 12:40 PM

With all due respect to the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, Montreal is hockey town. It has taken less than 24 hours in this fabled Old-World city to reach this undeniable conclusion.

Hockey is everywhere here; in the papers, on TV, dominating the radio airwaves. It is part of almost every snippet of conversation you here as you move around this bustling city. Everyone knows the game and everyone has an opinion about it.

Heck, there were three different post-game programs breaking down the Canadiens loss to New Jersey on Wednesday night. I'm guessing the French-language versions were just as incensed with the loss as the English-language ones I encountered after dinner and a few beverages with the NHL.com crew.

Even landing, you sensed that Montreal is different from most other places. As our Embraer jet broke through the low-hanging cloud cover, the snow-covered ground outside the aircraft was littered with outdoor rinks; one every mile or so.

And, at 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, all but one was filled with tiny figures swirling across the gray surface.

The car radio in our courtesy van from the airport to the downtown hotel was tuned to one of the city's all-sports stations. It should be called an all-hockey station because nothing else was discussed during the 45-minute ride.

I have been to Montreal several times to cover games at the Old Forum and I have treasured memories of each visit I have made to this city. But, it has been a while since I have been here and I have clearly forgotten just how deep and fast the passion for the game -- and specifically the Canadiens -- runs in these parts.

It is a passion that is contagious. And, when combined with the cold and snow that have enveloped Montreal this month, it demands that you be in a hockey frame of mind, as well. For a hockey-lifer like me, that is exhilarating.

There is no need to explain to acquaintances why you are in their town or what you do. They know as you as you say "I'm here for the All-Star Game." They smile and nod -- and some even ask for tickets, which are impossible to come across.

I'm energized by Montreal and its vibe and I expect it to help carry me -- and the rest of the .com boys -- through what will be a long and hectic next four days. I know the hockey energy will surface in my work -- there is no way it can't.

I hope you all come along for the rise with us and vicariously enjoy the trip.

-- Shawn P. Roarke


Touching down in Montreal
Jan. 22, 10:30 AM

MONTREAL -- Notice the dateline to your left. That's right, the NHL.com boys are in town and ready for NHL All-Star Weekend, an extravaganza for the ages.

We arrived Wednesday evening, five of us together on the flight from Newark and another member of the crew who came in from LaGuardia. Two more are coming today, bringing our man power to eight capable soldiers.

We had to battle some rush hour traffic on our way downtown to our hotel, which is just a stones throw from the Bell Centre. On the way, we got to listen to Pierre McGuire have a 30-minute spot on The Team 990 radio.

Hockey talk all the time on the airwaves. We don't always get that in New York, so it's quite refreshing.

We settled in for a nice dinner at a local establishment, where we got to watch the Habs vs. New Jersey. Good win by the Devils. Can you believe that Scott Clemmensen is 19-9-1 with .922 save percentage? For cryin' out loud, those are numbers worthy of being in Montreal this weekend. Look out, though, because Marty Brodeur is starting to skate.

Today most of the players who will be playing in the NHL YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck will be at the hotel to meet the media. Yes, we'll be there, delivering you plenty of stories. I'm told Mike Babcock and Guy Carbonneau will be in attendance as well.

The Lays NHL All-Star Jamboree opens at 2 ET today and I'm excited to go check it out. Mike Morreale and I are planning a visit for the grand opening and I can't wait to see what my buddy, Nick Gennarelli, the NHL's Manager of Events and Entertainment, has cooked up.

There is some news today as I'm sure you've already read. Joe Thornton and Alex Kovalev have been named captains for the West and the East, respectively. There were plenty of candidates to choose from and those are some solid picks.

I was a little surprised that Scott Niedermayer didn't get the honor from the West, but you can't really argue with Thornton. And, judging by his quote - "I'm shocked and excited" - you can tell that truly really appreciates and respects the honor.

Kovalev should get an awesome greeting from the Montreal faithful when he's introduced.

Time to do some research. Check back later...

-- Dan Rosen

 
Is Getzlaf playing possum?
Jan. 20, 02:25 PM

Maybe he's scared. Perhaps he's a little intimidated. Or, could it be that he already stoked the flame enough and he doesn't want to get burned by it come Saturday night?

Ryan Getzlaf is backing off his words. That's right, hockey fans, Getzlaf is taking back what he said about Alex Ovechkin's spin-o-rama move that won him the Breakaway Challenge last year in Atlanta.

Getzlaf, who called Ovechkin's move "overrated" in a video created to build hype for the upcoming Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge, told me Tuesday morning that he was just kidding around.

"No, it was cool," he said. "I was just having some fun with it."

OK, Ryan. We'll buy what you're selling -- for now…

In all seriousness, there's no way that Getzlaf is scared or intimidated by Ovechkin, but he does plan on beating him Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

With what move remains to be seen.

"I'm still thinking," Getzlaf said. "There is nothing to reveal yet."

Getzlaf tried to tell me that he doesn't really practice his moves, but I don't know how much I believe him. However, I must note that I was looking for him on the ice after the Ducks morning skate at Madison Square Garden, but he was already in the dressing room.

Seems like post-practice would be as good a time as any to work on your moves, especially with the event only five nights away, but he wasn't doing it so maybe he was telling the truth. Or, maybe he was just focusing on Tuesday night's game against the Rangers.

"I'll see what some of the other guys do and try to do something different," Getzlaf said of his opponents, including Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Alex Kovalev and Sid the Kid. "That's the big thing, to not be the same as the other guys. We all screw around with the puck all the time. We're just going to do it in front of a camera now."

Expect Getzlaf to try something great, but nothing too extravagant, he said.

"You have to do something that you can do," he said. "You can try anything you want, but if it's not something you can do it's not going to look that good out there."
   
-- Dan Rosen


Faster than a speeding bullet
Jan. 16, 05:58 PM

Mike Modano doesn't plan on lacing 'em up to compete in the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater Competition. As one of two 38-year-old veterans in the game (Nicklas Lidstrom being the other), Modano would probably like to leave the speed skating to some of the young pups.
   
That being said, the former speed burner, who in his prime might have been the fastest player in the League, if not definitely one of them, has an idea of what it would take to win the competition.
   
"It's a timing thing," Modano said. "Just really getting a constant flow to your stride is a big part of that speed."
   
Asked who he thinks were the fastest skaters in today's NHL, Modano said there are two sets of criteria. All-out, around-the-rink speed, or blue-line-to-blue-line speed.
   
He said he always thought Paul Kariya was one of the fastest blue line to blue line skaters in the League. When healthy, he probably still is, but now Modano would nominate Alex Ovechkin for that honor.
   
For around-the-rink speed, Sergei Fedorov has always been one of his favorites along with Scott Niedermayer. Both can still burn, but Modano said he now likes Brian Campbell's speed and believes his teammate, Stephane Robidas, is "a very underrated skater."
   
"The list is probably pretty long," Modano added.
   
Shawn Horcoff had the fastest heat time at last year's game, but Brian Campbell edged both him and Duncan Keith with the best average time. Campbell could defend his title this year, perhaps against Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Pavel Datsyuk?
   
We'll find out soon enough, but you can bet that Modano will be watching, and critiquing.
   
-- Dan Rosen


Kings trio talk about upcoming ASG trip
Jan. 16, 12:29 PM

The Kings are going to be well-represented during the NHL All-Star Weekend in Montreal, despite just having one player in the game itself.

Los Angeles right wing Dustin Brown, the Kings lone All-Star representative, will be joined in Montreal by goalie Erik Ersberg and rookie defenseman Drew Doughty who are suiting up for the NHL YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck. 

Brown, who has played in All-Star games in other leagues, is playing in his first in the NHL.

"I played in some All-Star games in the OHL and the AHL level," Brown said. "But never at this level. It's obviously something special and a great honor."

Brown feels that this gives him a unique opportunity to get to know players off the ice, which is an opportunity he wouldn't normally get.

"You look at some of the players in the lineup and they are all skilled," Brown said. "There are some really special players. I think the most fun part about being in an All-Star Game is that you get to know star players as a person. It's your one chance to get to meet players that will probably never play with."

Brown, who leads the Western Conference with 159 hits, is going to have to alter his game in Montreal due to the All-Star Game's finesse reputation. 

"I'm still trying to figure that one out," Brown said. "I know I'm not going to hit like I do during a regular-season game. My normal game probably doesn't suit the NHL All-Star Game's style or intensity, but I'll think of something."

Doughty, who leads the League's rookies with an average ice time of 23:42, is looking forward to the opportunity to take part in the weekend's events, particularly since they are in historic Montreal.

"I'm really excited and I'm looking forward to getting a chance to play in the game," Doughty said. "Now that I have been invited it's a pleasure and I can't wait to get out there.

"I think it's going to be awesome. Obviously, Montreal is a great place for the All-Star Game this year. It's a great hockey town and there are a lot of great hockey fans there so I'm sure the building will be really loud and it will be fun for the players as well."

While Doughty and Ersberg are teammates during the regular season, they are going to oppose each other during the YoungStars Game.

Ersberg, who is recovering from a groin injury that saw him miss eight games, hasn't given the festivities much thought because, like most NHL players, his focus is on his next game.

"I haven't thought about that (the YoungStars Game) at all," Ersberg said. "I've been concentrating on getting back from my injury, so I haven't really thought about that. I have played OK so far. I think I can do better and I think that our team can do better. I think we can be a little higher in the standings and hopefully we can achieve that in the second part of the season."

-- Adam Schwartz


Luongo hoping he's healthy for All-Star Game
Jan. 16, 9:49 AM


Roberto Luongo is hoping that he can be ready for the All-Star Game in Montreal, but is playing just his first game tonight since injuring his groin Nov. 22 in the Canucks 3-1 victory of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

While Luongo is viewed as one of the best goalies on the planet, he has only won one playoff round in 2007 when the Canucks defeated the Dallas Stars in a memorable seven-game series. He has never won a Vezina Trophy as the League's top goalie, but those in the know still know how good he is and are aware of just how valuable he is.

Luongo has an 11-5-2 record this season, and to show just how important he is to Vancouver's success, the club is 11-13-3 without him.

Thankfully for Vancouver, which has lost five of its last six games, Luongo is returning Thursday when the Canucks face the Coyotes.

"The wait has been really tough," Luongo said. "It's the first time I've had an injury like this and to be out this long has been tough on me. Now I'm starting to get back, but at the same time you have to hold back a little bit because you don't want to get ahead of yourself and possibly hurt yourself again. I've been getting closer and I'm looking forward to playing."

Luongo feels healthy and has begun practicing, but is still worried about getting back into game shape.  
 
"As far as the injury is concerned I feel ready," Luongo said. "It's just a matter of getting the timing back a little bit and feeling good about my game and getting back to where I was before I got hurt."

After being selected as a reserve for the Western Conference All-Stars, Luongo felt honored, and it is particularly special since the game is in his hometown of Montreal.

"The All-Star Game is in my hometown so that makes it nice," Luongo said. "At the same time I have to make sure that I'm 100 percent healthy. I have to be playing well and I don't want any effects of rust or groin issues."

Luongo feels that whenever a player gets the chance to play where he grew up it is a unique experience, particularly when it is in a hockey hotbed such as Montreal.

"It's very special to be selected to the All-Star team particularly since it's in my hometown," Luongo said. "Every time you get a chance to play in your hometown you know that all of your friends and family will be there watching, which makes it so much more special. In addition to that there is so much history behind the Montreal Canadiens and that also makes it really nice."

Despite the fact that Luongo grew up in Montreal, he was not a Canadiens fan growing up. He preferred the high-flying Oilers of the 1980s.

"I was an Oilers fan growing up," Luongo said. "Grant Fuhr was my idol and they had all of those great guys like Gretzky, Coffey and Kurri. That didn't make it too hard to be an Oilers fan back then."

-- Adam Schwartz


Orr can't wait for All-Star Weekend
Jan. 15, 12:41 PM


Bobby Orr played in seven All-Star Games in his brilliant career, so he knows a little bit about what next week's game means to those involved. Orr, a mainstay with the Bruins during their heyday in the early-70s, has also played a ton of games in Montreal.

With that unique set of experiences to draw from, Orr believes that next week's festivities will be like nothing hockey has ever seen.

"Montreal has always done things right," Orr said. "It's going to be an unbelievable event. Everything they're doing now leading up to it with the Original Six and all the rest has been outstanding."

How good has Montreal been at preparing for the All-Star Game, as well as all of the other events on their Centennial calendar? Good enough that the city of Boston is willing to put aside an intense and not always good-natured rivalry with the city of Montreal in an attempt to learn a thing or two, says Orr.

"I have friends with the Boston Red Sox and they are a wonderful orginazation and they called me to ask if I could set up a meeting with the people in Montreal who are doing their festivities because they have a big year coming up and they want to go to Montreal and talk to the people that are working the big date.

"I think that says a lot about what people think of the Canadiens."

Just talking about the All-Star Game put Orr in a bit of a nostalgic mood. He was never much of a force at these midseason classics -- scoring just three points in his seven appearances -- but he always thoroughly enjoyed himself when he was there.

"It's just sitting around in the dressing room and looking around at who was with you," says Orr. "That was unbelievable. It's a fun event to see all the players that you bump into all the time, now you are playing with them. It was pretty special."

Just as it will be a special time for the 40-odd current All-Stars that will begin converging on Montreal next Thursday for the festivities surrounding Sunday's All-Star game.

-- Shawn P. Roarke and Adam Kimelman


How low can he go?
Jan. 13, 4:11 PM


Forget about being the brash and cocky first timer. Jeff Carter is purposely setting the bar very low for himself.

The Philadelphia Flyers' young sniper and first-time all-star told me Tuesday morning that he doesn't expect much out of himself in the Honda/NHL SuperSkills Competition next Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

In fact, when I asked him what event he should be in, Carter, who led the NHL with 29 goals heading into Tuesday night's action, was not only non-committal, he was self-deprecating.

On the Cisco NHL Hardest Shot competition: "I don't take slap shots, so I'd probably embarrass myself if I got put out there," Carter said.

Perhaps, he admitted, the McDonald's NHL Accuracy Shooting competition would suit him, "but I'd probably miss every one."

Teammate Scott Hartnell, unaware that the competitors for the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge had already been selected, believes Carter could do well in that competition.

"He gets about two to three breakaways a game," Hartnell said.

But he won't be a part of that one. And, we've already ruled out the Hardest Shot and Accuracy Shooting. Since Carter isn't eligible for the NHL YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck, that leaves only one event for him to try to win.

The Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater, which may be just right for him.

"His speed is underrated," Hartnell said. "Once he gets going with those long legs, he really gets going."

Even Carter admitted that much, but he doesn't expect to have any say in what event he does.

"I'm probably the last one to get picked," he said. "I have no rank."

Nor does he have any expectations.

"I'm setting the bar low," he added, "so I might do alright."

In reality, Carter doesn't care what he does Saturday night. His excitement trumps any hesitation or self doubt he may have.

This is Montreal for NHL All-Star Weekend and he's one of the stars of the show.

That's pretty darn cool.

"I have been to junior hockey all-star games and that's not going to compare to this," Carter said. "I'm just going to sit back and take it all in. I think that's the best way to go about it. It's pretty exciting to see where I have gotten in a few years."

-- Dan Rosen


All-Star coaches certainly fit the bill
Jan. 12, 2:23 PM

Take the Bruins' head coach Claude Julien, and blindfold him. Take his team, the Boston Bruins, and replace them all, to a man, with the 2009 Eastern Conference All-Star team.

It might actually be a full period of hockey before anyone noticed a change in play.

He and the rest of the Boston Bruins have been just about that good this season. And, on Saturday, he was recognized as coach of those Eastern All-Stars, the first of what is sure to be an honor-filled season for both he and his club.

Now, at the beginning of the season, it would not have been difficult to imagine two of these teams – Detroit and San Jose – battling for the Presidents' Trophy throughout the season, with Boston and Washington not far behind.

But not many would have projected the precise ordering. And very few would have thought that Detroit, with the addition of Marian Hossa, would not only be outside of first, but third in the League, at the halfway point of the season.

The truth is that the number of elite clubs – and coaches – in the League is trending upward. Julien will be joined by either the talented Mr. Boudreau, who has turned the Washington Capitals almost completely around in a little more than one calendar year, or Montreal's Guy Carbonneau, the coach of the hometown team that sits withing hailing distance of JUlien's boys in the Northeast Conference.

Montreal and Washington play Saturday night. If Montreal gets a regulation win, Carbonneau is in. Any other result and Boudreau is the Eastern CoNference assistant coach.
 
In the West, old friends meet again, but in reversed roles. Todd McLellan will act as head coach of Team West, with Mike Babcock acting as his assistant.

Now, each coach would credit hard work and discipline for their success, the truth is, each of these coaches has put something together with his particular team.

Julien has answered every challenge this season, having posted a 6-0-2 record against a combined Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Detroit, Montreal and Chicago -- though the gritty Buffalo Sabres have taken six of seven points off the B's.

Whomever ends up assisting Julien, that duyo will face a tough challenge behind the Western bench.

This summer, GM Doug Wilson dubbed Todd McLellan the man to turn the Sharks' tide; a decision that had something to do with the young coach's impressive winning resume. A head coach his whole life, save his three years in Detroit, McLellan has never missed a postseason. He won two league championships during that stretch: one as an assistant, one as head coach.

He adds a special degree to the Sharks. They, in turn, have learned to complement his coaching style and philosophy. And with McLellan behind the bench, the Sharks have not lost in regulation at home during the 2008-09 season, a span of 21 straight games.

He won't receive his report card until the spring, but it already appears that a "new" Sharks team has emerged under his watch. The first change is that the next time he meets his old boss, it is he will have the bigger title.

Like McLellan, Detroit's Mike Babcock cut his coaching teeth in the Canadian junior and university leagues, on to minor pro leagues early in his career, then to the AHL, then to the Anaheim Ducks.

He and his Ducks were defeated by Martin Brodeur in the Stanley Cup Final, the same year they defeated the Detroit Red Wings in four games. The next year he missed the playoffs.

His next tenured position was head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. His teams lost in the first round in 2005-06, third round in 2006-07, and then won the Championship in 2007-08. During the course of three seasons, he and the Detroit Red Wings, along with coach McLellan, learned how to win. Each is looking to repeat.

Each of these All-Star coaches has a highly impressive resume.

Each leads a team that has a certain amount of success to celebrate. The amount of All-Stars off the rosters of these coaches' club teams is a direct result of the teams' success.

Boston is showing just how big a difference a winning atmosphere can make in an individual's play.

All-Stars Marc Savard, Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara are each having an exceptional season, but beyond the Bruins No. 1 center, defenseman, and goaltender, the sheer number of players on Boston's roster enjoying career seasons is staggering.

Young Czech forward David Kreji broke his career high for points in November. Former first-round pick Phil Kessel broke his career high for goals not long after, and budding power-forward Milan Lucic has drawn power-forward comparisons to just about everyone.

The defense, the same; Matt Hunwick and Dennis Wideman are each enjoying success at an unprecedented rate. And the goaltenders? Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez each has played as well this season as any of the League's elite.

In the end, what each of these coaches brings to the table is the willingness to believe in a winning atmosphere, from men who have experience with winning atmospheres. Their winning ways helps to build the confidence of its members, which, in turn, leads to more team goals being reached.

--Brad Holland


Handicapping the Eastern lineup
Jan. 9, 2:32 PM
There's no chance of the Bruins' seven-point lead in the Eastern Conference evaporating before the All-Star coaches are announced Sunday, so I feel very comfortable stepping into the shoes of Boston's Claude Julien, who will be the head coach of the eastern Conference at this year's All-Star Game.

As such, I'm going to take my shot at making up the lines for his offensive juggernaut of a team.

Forwards

Line 1: Malkin-Crosby-Kovalev
Line 2: Heatley-Savard-Ovechkin
Line 3: Kovalchuk-Lecavalier-Vanek
Line 4: Parise-Staal-Carter

The problem with setting up the lines for the Eastern Conference -- outside of the fact that there is far too much talent with which to tinker -- is that on the entire forward roster, only one player (Kovalev) is a natural right wing.

That means a lot of these guys will be playing out of their natural positions. Of course, when you're talking about guys like Thomas Vanek, Dany Heatley or Jeff Carter, it probably doesn't even really matter. They're just too good of hockey players not to be effective wherever you put them. But it's still an issue for the coaching staff, regardless of what it means to the players.

So as far as the lines go, the starters will remain together on the top line, meaning Alex Kovalev wins the ultimate lottery selection and gets a shot to play with the game's two most dominant forwards -- save Mr. Ovechkin, of course.

Marc Savard, a natural passer, will be attempting to set up one prior 60-goal scorer on his left and one prior 50-goal scorer on his right, in Ovechkin and Heatley, respectively. Like the second line I proposed in the Western Conference -- Rick Nash-Pavel Datsyuk-Jarome Iginla -- this line has the capacity for some special things.

On the third line, two past 50-goal scorers in Ilya Kovalchuk and Vinny Lecavalier will team up with Thomas Vanek, the League's leading goal-scorer (and future 50-goal scorer) on perhaps the most offensively gifted "third line" in history. The "checking" line will feature Zach Parise, in his breakout season, and Jeff Carter, in his breakout season, on either side former Stanley Cup Champion Eric Staal at center.

If it wasn't for the West's dominating D, I'd say this is almost unfair. But I won't. I'll just say that the group of six out West is going to have its hands full containing this stacked lineup.

Defense

Pairing 1: Komisarek-Markov
Pairing 2: Chara-Bouwmeester
Pairing 3: Kaberle-Streit

Again, the starters stick together, which is perfect, since these two skate together on a regular basis in Montreal anyway. And on that note, I'd like to go off on a tangent, if I may.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say, for one, how excited I am to see the four Montreal Canadiens' skaters start the All-Star Game in for their home fans, while the crowd chants "Ole, ole, ole, ole!" While some of the most knowledgeable fans are treated to the game's brightest stars, while we all bask in that atmosphere, reveling in the excitement of the home crowd.

The idea is giving me goosebumps. Nobody appreciates beautiful hockey like the fans of the Montreal Canadiens, and nobody will shower more adoration at the feet of their own than those same fans.  The atmosphere in the game, and especially in the first period -- should Price be healthy enough to play -- will be unmatched.

Every time a Canadiens' player does something special, you can bet the crowd will erupt; meaning the intensity of the game, and therefore, its entertainment value, will be ratcheted right up. We all have a chance to be a part of something special here, even while watching at home, and I can't wait until Jan. 25 to see it all play out.

Now, back to business.

The second pair puts Chara, a smart, reliable, game-changing defender with Bouwmeester, a dynamic, intelligent, game-changing defender. The synergy between the two will be fun to watch, and again, with Chara having played at times this season with the flashy Dennis Wideman, he should feel right at home with another rushing defender in Bouwmeester.

Third pair will give Kaberle, a thinking man's thinking man, a chance to play with Streit, who may have one of the most underrated - and dangerous - one-timers in the entire League. Leaving the high-flying Canadiens for the more defensive-minded Islanders has not hurt Streit's production at all. In fact, it's helped it. Surprisingly, it is instead his ex-teammates who have struggled, especially on the power play, in his absence. I think that alone shows just what sort of a superstar the underrated Streit actually is.

As a whole, the Eastern defenders aren't as complete or as potentially dominant as their Western counterparts, but they are All-Stars, in every sense of the world, and will be the perfect complement to an absolutely mind-boggling forward group.

Goalies

Period 1: Price
Period 1: Thomas
Period 1: Lundqvist

As I said, the atmosphere with Price in net and his three teammates in front of him at the start of the game will be a moment not soon forgotten in All-Star Game lore. His place is set; but for the other two, I like Thomas to shut down the often high-scoring second period, because as a reflex goaltender used to seeing shots, he should feel right at home if an offensive barrage breaks out in the second.

In the third, the ice water running through Lundqvist's veins will be the perfect antidote to the raucous atmosphere that will likely be erupting in Montreal. He'll calm things down, shut the door, and ,(hopefully, cement the game as one of the most entertaining in recent memory.

--Brad Holland


He's got the snubbing feeling
Jan. 9, 12:37 AM

Does Rick Nash still feel he was snubbed last year in Atlanta when Eric Staal got the MVP car even though the Blue Jackets' star had the game's only hat trick?

You be the judge.

"The year before I had (four) points and I think someone else had (five) points, our team won, and the losing team guy got it," Nash said. "Last year they said the reason I didn't get it was because my team lost. It was kind of confusing. It is what it is. I didn't lose any sleep over it. The media picks it. That's what they thought."

It's not as if Staal didn't deserve the car. He had 2 goals and then set up Marc Savard's game-winner with 20.9 seconds left in regulation, helping lift the East to an 8-7 victory at Phillips Arena.

Even so, you can understand Nash's point.

Danny Briere, then of the Buffalo Sabres, was named MVP of the Dallas game in 2007 even though the West won, 12-9. Colorado's Joe Sakic got the MVP in the Minnesota game in 2004, but the East won that night, 6-4.

Want more?

Dany Heatley, then of the Atlanta Thrashers, was MVP in 2003 despite the West's 6-5 shootout win in Florida. Chicago's Eric Daze took home the honor in 2002 in Los Angeles even though his North American squad lost to the World, 8-5.

Before Staal, Bill Guerin, then of the Boston Bruins, was the last player from the winning team to take home the MVP honor.

So, yeah, you can see why Nash is a bit confused.

"I'm not going to try (to win it this year) and maybe I will," Nash said. "Doesn't the media pick that? You'd have to ask all of them. I don't know. It is what it is. It's not a big deal."

Maybe not, but Nash thinks an All-Star Game in Montreal is a huge deal.

Sometimes players may sound reluctant to attend the midseason superstar show, which is kind of ridiculous considering they're treated like gold during All-Star Weekend, but Nash doesn't think anyone should be thinking along those lines this season.

"It's going to be crazy," he said. "Every All-Star Game I've been to has been crazy. Minnesota was my first one, and it was pretty nice, but going to a Canadian city where hockey is pretty much religion and life, it's going to be unbelievable with all the celebrations, the hundred years, things like that. It's going to be definitely a special weekend. I think the city's going to be packed."

-- Dan Rosen


Consulting the YoungStar crystal ball
Jan. 8, 1:56 PM

Now that your office arguments about the full rosters for the NHL All-Star Game are boiling over, I present you with another topic of discussion.

Who will play in the realigned NHL YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck?

Everyone who knows what a puck looks like is saying the NHL has turned into a young man's league and while some of those baby-faced stars will be playing Jan. 25 in the main game, 18 more will be sharpening their skates for a Saturday night show in Montreal.

Considering it's a non-stop, wide-open game of three-on-three between the League's freshmen and sophomores, I'm going to assume each side will have six forwards and three defensemen.

Who will they be? We'll find out for sure on Friday (11:30 a.m. ET on NHL.com), but I like to think I know already, so here goes:

SOPHOMORES

The list got lighter thanks to the NHL XM All-Star Fan balloting presented by 2K Sports. Second-year wonders Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Carey Price were all voted in as starters.

The options still remain strong, though.

The two obvious picks at forward are Washington center Nicklas Backstrom and San Jose winger Devin Setoguchi.

Backstrom, a finalist for the Calder Trophy last season, has spent another half-season setting up Alex Ovechkin. He has 33 assists and 45 points. Setoguchi has benefitted by playing alongside All-Star Joe Thornton. He has 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points, good for third most on the NHL's best team.

A pair of Bruins should make it to Saturday night in Montreal as well. Milan Lucic (11-15-26 with a League-high 154 hits) would at least put some fear into the freshmen and David Krejci (14-27-41) has yet to find a spot on the ice where he can't make a difference.

It's a solid list of contestants for the final two spots at forward for the sophomores and while it's tough to leave off guys like Sam Gagner, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Andrew Cogliano, I'm going to do it.

Sergei Kostitsyn gets my nod because he's a hometown favorite and Peter Mueller belongs as well. Kostitsyn has only 15 points this season, but Montreal would love to see him in the game. Mueller (8-16-24) has picked up his pace of late.

Marc Staal is an easy pick for the blue line. Although he hasn't found confidence in his offensive game yet, Staal has been the Rangers steadiest defensemen all season. He has 8 points and a plus-7 rating. No other Blueshirt defenseman is on the plus side.

Tom Gilbert of the Oilers and Tobias Enstrom of the Thrashers belong as well.

Gilbert has 18 points while averaging more than 21 minutes a night. Enstrom trailed only Ron Hainsey in ice time per game among the Thrashers entering Thursday. He had a goal and eight assists with a plus-3 rating through 41 games.

With Price no longer an option in goal, things get a little hairy here. I can think of three solid candidates, none of whom fit the bill as a true sophomore.

Technically, Tampa Bay's Mike Smith could be an option because he was considered a rookie last season. Smith, though, is hardly a sophomore. He played 23 games for Dallas in 2006-07, which is about average for any backup goalie.

In the same vein, Anaheim's Jonas Hiller is really in his sophomore year but technically considered a rookie because he played in 23 games last season. That was backing up All-Star starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Price's backup, Jaroslav Halak, played in 16 games in 2006-07 and another six last season, so he's technically in his third season as an NHL player but was still eligible for the Calder Trophy last season.

Considering another Canadien in the game couldn't hurt and Halak has been decent, I'm going to forget about the technicalities and just go with him. He has appeared in 15 games and holds a 7-6-1 record with a 2.74 GAA and .910 save percentage.

Hiller has been good this season with 10 wins in 19 appearances entering Thursday. I wouldn't be shocked to see him as the sophomores' goalie, but could he play with the rookies?

We'll find out.

ROOKIES
   
The first four forwards, two defensemen and the goalie should just roll off your tongue. They are, at least in my mind, easy choices.

Chicago's Kris Versteeg led all rookie scorers with 33 points before Thursday night's game. St. Louis center Patrik Berglund is second with 25 points. Boston's Blake Wheeler was fourth with 24 points, but close to passing injured Columbus center Derick Brassard, who would make it if not for season-ending shoulder surgery he suffered last month.

Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 pick six months ago, hasn't exactly lit it up in his first season with 4 goals, 10 assists and a minus-11 rating until Thursday, but he'll make the game. Stamkos brings a superstar quality that none of the other three forwards I already picked yet have.

Los Angeles' Drew Doughty and Toronto's Luke Schenn, the second and fifth picks, respectively, in last June's Draft, are natural picks for the blue line. Doughty will help the freshmen move the puck while Schenn will be good at keeping it out of the net.

Doughty leads the Kings and all rookies with close to 24 minutes of ice time. Schenn, who recently returned from a month-long stay on injured reserve, is second among rookies with close to 21 minutes of ice time.
   
Columbus goalie Steve Mason could easily be playing on Sunday. In fact, if Roberto Luongo isn't healthy enough to play in the game, Mason may very well get the call to be his replacement.

He began Thursday leading the NHL with a 1.82 GAA and .934 save percentage. He was tied with Luongo and Niklas Backstrom, both All-Star reserves for the West, with five shutouts.

The remaining three players for the freshmen should be Anaheim's Bobby Ryan and Dallas' James Neal up front and Pittsburgh defenseman Alex Goligoski on the back.

Ryan, technically a rookie despite playing 23 games last season, has surged since being called up to the big club and Neal has put together a solid rookie campaign as well. Goligoski led the Pens' D-men with 19 points and a plus-7 rating.

-- Dan Rosen


Potential West line combinations
Jan. 7, 1:44 PM

Barring a complete meltdown leading up to the 2009 NHL All-Star Game, first-year San Jose Sharks' head coach Todd McLellan will likely be the man behind the bench for the Western Conference All-Stars.

A more enviable position is hard to imagine. The amount of skill on the ice at any one time will be staggering.

Now, if you're a hockey nerd like me -- and you probably are if you are reading this -- then you're already starting to look at line combinations and defensive pairings for the All-Star game. Let's let the starters stick together, for now (they've earned it), but that still leaves nine forwards and four defenseman without assignments.

Coach McLellan, let me step into your shoes for a moment, sir.

Forward Lines:

Line 1: Kane-Toews-Getzlaf
Line 2: Nash-Datsyuk-Iginla
Line 3: Brown-Thornton-Doan
Line 4: Tkachuk-Modano-Hejduk

First up, as I said, the starters' group of Chicago's Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf will stick together. All under 25, all looking at careers as bright as the sun bouncing off the mounds of snow up in Montreal. And each of whom brings a little something different to the ice.

Kane is a thinking-man's player, with a skill set almost unmatched in today's game. His teammate, Toews, is the workhorse of the Blackhawks, their captain and leader and a guy who brings every ounce of effort to complement his considerable skill. Getzlaf is a hybrid of the two, with a gritty, two-way game like Toews and an incredible amount of talent and ability - rivaling Kane's - wrapped up in a 6-foot-3 frame.

For the second line, I like the idea of Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk flanked by Calgary's Jarome Iginla on the right and Columbus' Rick Nash on the left. Iginla and Nash split the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy in 2001-02 (with Iginla winning again in 2003-04), while Pavel Datsyuk is among the League's best playmakers.

Datsyuk has averaged just under 62 assists per season during the past three seasons, and looks to be on pace for another outstanding season, with 17 goals and 45 points already. If he and his two super-sniper linemates really get gelling, the trio could combine for one huge Sunday afternoon on game day.

My third line, if I'm McLellan, would be a gritty up-and-down, straight-line type of group, with big-man Joe Thornton centering Phoenix's Shane Doan on his right and young Dustin "Brownie" Brown on his left.

Thornton occupied such a role during Team Canada's 2002 Olympic gold-medal campaign, chipping in goals and making the game hard on opposing defenders, while Doan and Brown are among the League leaders in hits every season.

In fact, Brown led the League last year with 311 body checks last season, and the vast majority of them were punishing. This year, he sits third with 141 hits through 39 games, while Doan sits 12th with 104 through 41 games.

There may not be a whole lot of hitting in the All-Star game, understandably, but that doesn't mean these two junkyard dogs won't attempt to get their licks in, if they can do it safely and honestly, throughout the course of the game.

For the "fourth" line, I envision a veteran-savvy group of St. Louis' Keith Tkachuk on the left, Dallas' Mike Modano in the middle, and Colorado's Milan Hejduk on the right.

Modano has scored some of his team's biggest goals this season, while Hejduk remains one of the League's top goal-getters and Tkachuk is well…Tkachuk. He and Modano (each a potential captain for Team USA in 2010?) will have instant karma together as they have skated together in international tournaments many times.

On the back end, it's another embarrassment of riches, meaning coach McLellan will have his hands full attempting to find enough ice time for all of these horses. Having coached a full third of his group (Lidstrom while McLellan was an assistant coach in Detroit and this year with Boyle in San Jose), he will be well-versed in their capabilities, though he may designate Detroit bench boss Mike Babcock as defensive coach.

Regardless, this is how I see the pairings as shaping out:

Defensive Pairings

First pair: Niedermayer-Campbell
Second pair: Lidstrom-Weber
Third pair: Souray-Boyle

Again, the starters get the nod. Hey, this is a fans' game, isn't it? You've got to give the people what they want. And in this case, you want speed. Imagine the fear struck into the hearts of opposing defenders when Niedermayer and Campbell jump over the boards together? It'll be almost like having five forwards to defend.

For the second and third pairs, the matchups almost set themselves because there are two left-shot defenders (Lidstrom and Souray), and two right-shot defenders (Weber and Boyle). Nick Lidstrom skates with a right-shot defender in Brian Rafalski in Detroit, but not one quite so overpowering. Rafalski may like to shoot, but his 75 shots through 39 games are a full 50 fewer than Weber's 125 through 39 games.

Lidstrom dishing, and one of the League's best shots hammering those passes as one-timers. Is there any doubt that the two will look good paired up together?

The "third" pair (or should I say the "1C Pair") features a combined 24 goals and 50 points, 225 shots on goal and a very healthy plus-9 rating. Not bad for a "fifth" and "sixth" defenseman, is it? Even for an All-Star team, those numbers are highly impressive.

Both Souray and Boyle are offensive players, but they are different: Boyle likes to rush and can dangle with the best forwards in the game, while his peer in Edmonton is more of  a stay-at-home cannon from the point; albeit one with excellent vision and a knack for getting his shots through and on net.

And now…

Goaltenders (by period):

Period 1: J.S. Giguere
Period 2: Niklas Backstrom
Period 3: Roberto Luongo

In my role as coach, I start the starter (obviously), then come back with Backstrom before letting Luongo clean up the game. You really can't make a bad decision here, and so I'll go out on a limb and say these three are the perfect setup for one heck of a dominating defensive team.

And that's it; my own take on McLellan's roster. Take it or leave it (and he probably will leave it), it will be interesting to see how the lines come together on Sunday, Jan. 25, at the Bell Centre.

-- Brad Holland



Ready for a Super show
Jan. 6, 1:41 PM

Even before the puck hit the ice, before his spin-o-rama was complete, I remember thinking to myself, "Who is going to be able to beat this guy?" That's how unbelievable Alexander Ovechkin's goal-attempt was in the inaugural Breakaway Challenge last year in Atlanta.

But then, it dawned on me: perhaps, just perhaps, Ovie was just the quickest learner that day, the first NHL skater to figure out the competition's format, and not actually the most creative shootout artist in history.

Then again, had he scored on his baseball-bat attempt after the spin-o-rama, that move would have definitely ranked with the best of all time.

Sorry Mike Legg. Don't know who Mike Legg is?. Youtube it.

Now, if the latter is true, then we have a whole host of mind-boggling moves to look forward to at the 2009 NHL All-Star All-Star SuperSkills Competition, live from Montreal, Jan. 24 (Versus, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio). The NHL released the order of show for the SuperSkills competition Tuesday afternoon

That should be a show worthy of the Bell Centre, one of the cathedral's of hockey.

I almost feel sorry for the goaltenders.

Well, no not really. They've chosen their lot in life. Facing danglers like these guys is all in a days' work, no matter how demoralizing it may be.

Yes, Jason Blake's spin-o-rama is in that list, but it might not be the cream of the crop. You decide.

And see if those moves, all from the 2008-09 season, can compare to what the NHL Network's On the Fly feels are the Top 10 Shootout Goals since the shootout's inception.

Now, obviously, these shots are far different than what we'll be seeing in the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge 2009, as NHL penalty/shootout shot rules do not apply. The Breakaway Challenge is the highlight the four skill events on tap in the SuperSkills Competition, which also features a YoungStars Game

In the Breakaway Challenge, shooters start their routine from anywhere in the offensive zone and have full access to the offensive zone throughout, including behind the net -- and here's the kicker -- for as many attempts as each skater is able to muster in a one-minute shootout spree.

Again, I almost feel sorry for the goaltenders. Almost.

The best part, perhaps, about this new format is that the fans themselves will vote for their choice for the winner -- Montreal fans and voting seems to go hand-in-hand these -- by using their mobile devices to text message votes.

But that's not all.

When I was growing up, nothing inspired me more about the game of hockey than speed.

I watched Pavel Bure, Paul Coffey, Sergei Fedorov, Bill Guerin and Mike Gartner -- yes, even Gartner at the tail of his career, could still fly -- wheel up and down ice surfaces across Canada, making mere mortals look as if stuck in quicksand.

So for one night, all of those players got together, and raced on another, and I sat in rapt attention, leaning toward the television in an attempt to coax just a little more speed out of my favorite skater, young Fedorov.

I can still remember his victory in the inaugural Fastest Skater competition in 1992, in which he defeated his old CSKA Moscow teammate Alexander Mogilny in a photo finish, with the time of 14.363 seconds.

Give me a second to reminisce here…

(Awed silence).

Sorry. But if you didn't get goosebumps there, well, you may not be as big a hockey nerd as me. Or, perhaps skating isn't your thing. If that's the case, however, you may be drawn to other portions of this years' 2009 Honda/NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition.

There is the Upper Deck YoungStars Game, in which 9 sophomores will battle 9 freshmen in the 2009 Upper Deck YoungStars Game. It will be interesting to see how such stars as David Krejci, Kris Versteeg and others stack up against last years' Calder crop. It's too bad young Derick Brassard is out with injury, because this is just the event to showcase that particular youngster's vast skill set.

Of course the McDonald's Accuracy shooting will be a big draw, as it is every season, with snipers like Joe Thornton, Nick Lidstrom and others drawing their bead on the four corners of the net.

In the final event accuracy is nothing more than an afterthought. The Cisco NHL Hardest Shot is all about brute power.

And, if this video from the Edmonton Oilers' skills competition is any indication, Sheldon Souray just might be the early-All-Star favorite. And he might just have a shot at breaking Al Iafrate's all-time record of 105.2 mph.

(Hint: in the video, Souray is above 105 mph. Is he above 105.2? Well, you'll have to watch and find out).

And then finally, to slate the shootout-watching public's thirst for the best players and the best goaltenders going head-to-head, the final event, the Gatorade NHL Elimination Shootout, will feature 36 shooters and six goaltenders, in which both players and goaltenders will slowly be eliminated until only one final scoring shooter remains.

We'll be treated to such players as Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin who all were recently named starters, and the likely All-Stars of guys like Marc Savard, Ovechkin, Brad Boyes, Eric Staal and Pavel Datsyuk.

And if you need any other reason to look forward to that, well ... check out this highlight and scroll to the end to see an absolutely amazing goal, even by Pavel Datsyuk's lofty standards.

And in that one, I definitely feel sorry for the goaltender.

-- Brad Holland


Making a reserve list; checking it twice
Jan. 5, 1:44 PM

While the starting lineups for the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal contained few surprises when they were announced Saturday on NHL.com, the stage is now set for all sorts of speculation on who will be selected as reserves for both the Western and Eastern conferences.

The Western fill-ins, chosen by a panel of selectors for NHL Hockey Operations, will be announced Wednesday. The Eastern, meanwhile, will be revealed Thursday.  

For those of you who might have missed Saturday's announcement because of a Winter Classic-induced hangover, you should realize that the voters went with a youth movement this year in selecting the starters.

Chicago's Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Montreal's Carey Price and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf are all under 23 and compromise half of the 12 starting spots. Seven players -- Malkin, Montreal's Mike Komisarek and Price for the East; Kane, Toews, Getzlaf and J.S. Giguere for the West -- will be first-time All-Star starters.

With the starters out of the way, now the onerous -- and often controversial -- process of picking the reserves begins. As usual there are more qualified candidates than available spots.  Each conference has 15 reserves slots to fill.

For the Western Conference, is there any question that Detroit forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa and Henrik Zetterberg belong in this game?

The threesome ranks 1-2-3 in scoring for the defending Stanley Cup champion. Through Sunday, Datsyuk had posted 42 points, Hossa 37 and Zetterberg had racked up 35. Datsyuk has also chipped in with 35 hits, 62 blocked shots and 45 takeaways.

San Jose forwards Joe Thornton (46 points) and Patrick Marleau (41 points) are the leading scorers for the best team in the West. Calgary's Jarome Iginla should no doubt earn his fifth All-Star appearance. The Flames' captain leads his team with 18 goals and 46 points, while dishing out 36 hits.

Don't forget about Mikko Koivu of Minnesota, Rick Nash of Columbus and Shane Doan of Phoenix. Koivu leads the Wild with 11 goals and 37 points, Nash tops the Blue Jackets with 17 goals and 39 points and Doan heads the Coyotes with 18 goals and 38 points.

Defensively, Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom appears to be lock to make his 11th All-Star Game appearance. Additionally, Anaheim's Chris Pronger and Calgary's Dion Phaneuf should also be included along the blue line. A few players who have certainly performed like all-stars and may very well earn a spot in the game are San Jose's Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, Detroit's Brian Rafalski, Edmonton's Sheldon Souray and Nashville's Shea Weber.

In goal, San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov (21-3-4, 2.44 goals-against average, .909 save percentage) and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom (18-12-2, 2.21 GAA, .927 save percentage) have certainly done their part for their respective clubs.

While Washington's Alex Ovechkin wasn't voted in as a starter, there's no question the League's most entertaining performer will be named a reserve for the Eastern Conference. Ovechkin has posted 27 goals and 53 points and leads the League in minutes per game (23:01) among forwards through 38 games. Not only is Ovechkin a threat with the puck, but he's a force without it, as evidenced with his 134 hits, 80 blocked shots and 28 takeaways.

In addition to "Ovie", fans might expect to see Boston's Marc Savard among the list of forwards named to the All-Star Game reserves. Savard, who is among the League leaders with 36 assists, made his initial All-Star game appearance last season at Philips Arena in Atlanta.

The Philadelphia Flyers certainly have three worthy candidates at forward with Mike Richards (27 assists, 4 shorthanded goals, 42 points, 74 hits, 42 blocks, 37 takeaways), Simon Gagne (40 points, 4 shorthanded goals) and Jeff Carter, who is tied for the League lead in goals with Ovechkin with 27 and is tops on his team with 43 points.

Buffalo's Thomas Vanek, who has 26 goals and 35 points in 39 games with the Sabres this season, should also be considered among the elite forwards in the East.

Defensively, Boston's Zdeno Chara, Washington's Mike Green and Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen have each played vital roles for their respective clubs along the blue line. Green, in fact, is currently tied for eighth among NHL defensemen with 26 points despite missing 13 games this season. Chara, who won the hardest-shot event in the NHL Super Skills competition last season, has dished out 83 hits and has blocked 49 shots.

If Chara and Edmonton's Souray are each named as reserves, it could make for an interesting hardest-shot competition as the latter was a previous winner of the event.

Boston goalie Tim Thomas, who made his first All-Star Game appearance last season, should be named once again. Thomas has been nothing short of marvelous for the Bruins, who continue to lead the Eastern Conference with 29 wins and 62 points. The 34-year-old Flint, Mich., native is 16-4-3 with a 2.13 GAA and .932 save percentage. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (19-11-3, 2.67 GAA) and Buffalo's Ryan Miller (17-10-4, 2.56 GAA) have had solid seasons.

It'll be interesting to see if New Jersey's Scott Clemmensen receives any recognition. After all, he has filled in nicely for the League's best in Martin Brodeur. In 23 appearances, Clemmensen is 15-6-1 with a 2.21 GAA and .924 save percentage. Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a fan-favorite in the XM NHL All-Star Fan Balloting that finished second to Price in the voting, has struggled to regain his form after sitting a month with a lower-body injury. He's currently 11-8-2 with a 3.01 GAA and .904 save percentage. Fleury was actually edged by Montreal's Carey Price by fewer than 30,000 votes in a tight race during the final hours of the fan balloting last Friday.

The starters for the Western Conference include sophomores Kane and Toews, who were among three Blackhawks named starters. Kane and Toews finished 1-2 in the voting among Western forwards with 917,551 and 809,599, respectively, and will be joined by Chicago teammate Brian Campbell (784,476), who led all West defensemen. Three players from Anaheim were voted to starting positions: Giguere (617,241) finished first among Western Conference goalies, Getzlaf (716,569) will join Kane and Toews at forward and Scott Niedermayer (637,316) will be paired with Campbell on defense.

In the Eastern Conference, Crosby received the most votes in the history of NHL All-Star fan balloting with 1,713,021 and Malkin had the second-highest total ever at 1,585,936. The Pittsburgh tandem will join Montreal's Alex Kovalev (1,343,301) as a starter for the All-Star Game. On defense, Montreal's Andrei Markov and Komisarek will man the blue line in front of teammate Price (16-4-3, 2.30 GAA, .921 save percentage).

-- Mike G. Morreale

Author: NHL.com Staff


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