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Starry array of skills on tap in Montreal

Sunday, 01.18.2009 / 10:00 AM / The Week Ahead

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

The 57th NHL All-Star Game takes center stage this week at the Bell Centre in Montreal Sunday (6 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio).

Not only is the city looking forward to hosting the contest in its Centennial-season, but the players are also gearing up for a grand display.

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, whose team currently stands atop the Eastern Conference with 33 wins and 70 points, will be making his second straight All-Star Game appearance for the Eastern Conference.

"These are the best scorers in the world and there's also some of the best D in the world too," Thomas said. "They're probably not going to be blocking as many shots and stuff like that but having played the third period (last season), I happen to get in during a tight part of the game. I think I was a little bit nervous but had a great time and enjoyed myself. I'll enjoy it probably even more this season because I think I'll be able to relax a little bit more, soak it in a little bit better."

Dallas Stars center Mike Modano, who'll be making his seventh All-Star Game appearance for the Western Conference, enjoys the speed and pace of the game.

"You love the speed and the tempo, and the play making," Modano said. "Obviously, you get passes that sometimes catch you off guard that you don't normally get on a consistent basis. But you're dealing with guys who are great one-on-one guys, so if you can pass it to a guy in your own zone, he might go end-to-end and make some great plays and score. That's what's so exciting about the game -- you're around great players who can dominate and make plays."

Prior to the All-Star fireworks Sunday, there are several other intriguing games and events taking place this week. Keep in mind, no regular-season matches are slated from Jan. 22-26 so fans and players can kick back and enjoy NHL All-Star Weekend.

Richards returns to Tampa -- Dallas Stars forward Brad Richards will be making his first appearance at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Bay Monday since his deadline-day trade by the Lightning to the Stars last February.

At the time of the deal, the 28-year old Richards had appeared in 62 games with Tampa Bay in 2007-08, posting 18 goals and 33 assists, including 9 power play goals and 4 game-winners. He  spent six-plus seasons with the Lightning, the team that drafted him in the third round (No. 64) in 1998. When Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup in 2004, Richards earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP after producing 12 goals and 26 points in 23 games. He has a hard time believing the recent rumors that good friend Vincent Lecavalier is on the trading block.

"I think I went through it for a week last year where you have to deal with media every day," Richards told Joe Smith of the St. Petersburg Times. "It's unfortunate. I think for what he's done for the organization and everything it's just pretty crazy he had to go through a few days of that. He'll be fine, he's a professional and a great player and all of that will go away."

In his first full season with Dallas, Richards is tied for the team lead in scoring with 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) and also leads the team in shots (130). He has points in eight of the last 14 games (5 goals, 10 assists) and has a team-high 12 multiple-point games. In 606 career games spanning seven-plus NHL seasons, Richards has 163 goals and 536 points.

The countdown -- Before the NHL regular season takes a breather for five days beginning Thursday, there are nine games slated Wednesday, featuring one divisional showdown within each Conference.

Northeast

Boston at Toronto -- The Bruins have won their last seven road games with their last road loss a 3-1 setback in Washington on Dec. 10. The club's 70 points on the season (33-7-4) is their best start since 1929-30 when it fashioned a 37-5-1 record and 75 points through 43 games. The 70 points also surpass their entire season totals in 38 of their previous full seasons. The Maple Leafs are averaging 31.9 shots per game, which ranks sixth in the NHL. The Red Wings lead the League with 36.7 shots. Toronto also has the fifth-least shots against per game this season with only 28.1. The Kings have allowed the least at 26.3. The Bruins and the Leafs will be meeting for the fifth time this season with the Bruins holding a 3-1-0 lead in the season series so far.
 
Central

St. Louis at Chicago -- The Blackhawks have notched wins in eight of their last nine games at the United Center and are 8-2 over their last 10 home games, including a regulation loss at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day against Detroit. The Blackhawks have earned at least one point in 19 of their 21 home games this season with a 14-2-5 record. The Blues are 8-3-3 when leading after the first period and are 11-1-1 when leading after the second. St. Louis leads the season series, 2-0-1, in 2007-08 and the past five games between the teams have been decided by one goal, including all three matches this season. Blues center Keith Tkachuk, incidentally, has tallied 65 points (32 goals) in 74 career games against Chicago.

Super Saturday -- Fans are encouraged to watch the Honda NHL All-Star SuperSkills Competition Saturday night as they'll play a vital role in determining this year's winner in the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge.

The events include the NHL YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck, the fan-judged Breakaway Challenge, the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater, McDonald's NHL Accuracy Shooting and the Cisco NHL Hardest Shot competition. The evening concludes with the Gatorade NHL Elimination Shootout.

Fans will have an opportunity to actually vote after watching six of the NHL's most creative players strut their stuff in the Breakaway Challenge. With full access to the entire offensive zone, each shooter gets one minute to complete as many attempts as possible at a routine that ends with a shot on goal. Once all six skaters have performed, fans will vote by mobile text messaging powered by NHL partner Telescope, Inc. The polls will remain open throughout the YoungStars Game, which will feature a three-against-three contest between the League's top rookies and sophomores.

SuperSkills event leaders

Fastest skater -- Mike Gartner (13.386), 1996
Hardest shot -- Al Iafrate (105.2 mph), 1993
Shooting accuracy -- Mark Messier (4 hits, 4 shots), 1996

Shining stars -- Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, named head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Stars, led his team to their best first-half start since 1929-30 through 41 games with a .789 winning percentage (30-7-4) and 64 points. Julien will make his first career NHL All-Star coaching appearance in the city where he coached the Canadiens for 159 games over three seasons from 2002-03 to 2005-06.

"This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching," Julien said. "Again, with the coaching carousels, every once in a while you've got to move around. There's no animosity there at all. For me, it's a pleasure to go back not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins and the fact that I'm probably going to be hooking up there with some of the players that I've coached. There are always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the course of the years and I think just having an opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me."

San Jose coach Todd McLellan, who has guided the Sharks (30-5-5, .813) to the League's top first-half record in his rookie NHL season, will be manning the Western Conference bench. He'll be the first NHL rookie head coach to garner an All-Star Game head coaching position since Florida's Doug MacLean in 1995-96.

Interestingly enough, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will serve as McLellan's assistant, reversing their roles with the Red Wings from 2005-06 through 2007-08 when Detroit won 50-plus games for three consecutive seasons and captured the Stanley Cup last June.

McLellan, whose team scored a 6-5 decision over Detroit on Saturday, still feels the Wings are the team to beat come playoff time.

"With all due respect to Claude's team (in Boston) and to our team here in San Jose, Detroit still is the team to beat," McLellan said. "Obviously, the Calgary Flames are playing well but Detroit has an aura about them. They believe in themselves. They believe they can repeat as champions and it will be a tough task for anybody to knock them off.

"We've had a really good start and we've harnessed some of the early season energy, and were able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it's about maintaining our game. Are the Sharks playing better than Detroit? I don't necessarily agree with that."
 
Air time - The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

 
 
NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email nhlhour@nhl.com. The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on NHL.com via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic