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Elliott's surprising showing leads to All-Star berth

by John Kreiser

Brian Elliott spent most of the summer looking for a job. He spent this weekend as an All-Star.

There was no more unlikely participant in the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game than Elliott, who had to scramble for a job last summer after a dreadful season split between Ottawa and Colorado. He finally found a taker when the St. Louis Blues signed him to a two-way deal and gave him a chance to earn the backup job behind Jaroslav Halak.

Not only did Elliott earn a job, he got an opportunity when Halak struggled in the early going. Elliott made the most of his chance -- he reached the All-Star break leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.69) and save percentage (.938), and second in shutouts with five.

Brian Elliott
Goalie - STL
RECORD: 15-5-2
GAA: 1.69 | SVP: 0.938
The Blues rewarded Elliott with a two-year contract, but the biggest recognition of his out-of-nowhere season came Sunday when he stepped on the ice with the rest of the NHL's elite.

Five up -- Five players who've been more productive than their teams could have expected:

James Neal -- After doing almost nothing offensively (1 goal) following his acquisition by the Penguins in February 2011, Neal's 27 goals earned him an All-Star berth -- and he's a major reason the Penguins have been able to survive a barrage of injuries and stake a solid claim to a playoff berth.

Joffrey Lupul -- With 52 points at the break, Lupul is just one shy of his career high for a full season, set with Anaheim in 2005-06. He earned his All-Star berth and is a big reason Toronto has hopes of ending a playoff drought that extends back to 2004.

Alexander Edler -- Departures on Vancouver's blue line meant that Edler had to step up his game -- and he did it well enough to become an All-Star. Edler's 34 points at the break are more than he had last season and just eight short of his career high.

Mike Smith -- Smith's task coming into the season wasn't easy: He had to step into the starting job in Phoenix after Ilya Bryzgalov left for Philadelphia. He's more than filled the bill, going 18-13-7 with a 2.44 GAA and .922 save percentage while keeping the Coyotes in the playoff hunt.

PA Parenteau -- A lot of Parenteau's career-high 53 points last season were attributed to playing with John Tavares. But despite being moved to a different line during this season, Parenteau has already matched his 2010-11 total of 33 assists, and he has 43 points in just 48 games, putting him on pace to shatter last season's numbers.

Five down — Five players who have to give their teams more:

Ilya Bryzgalov's 2.95 GAA average and .895 save percentage are far below his performance levels with Phoenix. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ilya Bryzgalov -- He was a hit on "24/7," but Bryzgalov hasn't been as good as the Philadelphia Flyers expected him to be when they signed him to a nine-year contract last summer. His 18-10-4 record is OK, but his 2.95 GAA average and .895 save percentage are far below his performance levels with Phoenix.

Artem Anisimov -- The New York Rangers reached the All-Star break on top of the Eastern Conference. To stay there, they'll need more from Anisimov, who hasn't had a point in his last 15 games. The Rangers struggle to score; they need Anisimov to start producing.

Ryan Miller -- It's been a tough season for the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner -- he's been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. His 3.07 GAA and .899 save percentage are a big reason the Buffalo Sabres are in danger of missing the playoffs.

Dwayne Roloson -- Last spring's playoff hero for Tampa Bay has struggled all season. He is last among goalies who have played more than 20 games with a 3.63 GAA, and his save percentage is just .882.

Blake Comeau -- The Islanders expected a lot from Comeau after his 24-goal performance last season. Instead, they waived him after he went 17 games without a point. Calgary signed him, and he's managed just 3 goals and 9 points in 29 games as a Flame.

Injuries, news and notes -- The best thing about the All-Star break -- which for most of the NHL was six days -- is that players who have been banged up have a chance to let their injuries heal. Among them is Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who's expected back on Tuesday after missing time with a hand injury.

Out -- Nashville was without forward Jerred Smithson and defenseman Francis Bouillon due to upper-body injuries for its last pre-break game. … Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht didn't play in the Sabres' last game due to a concussion; he's been plagued by concussion-related problems for most of the season. … Carolina's Chad LaRose was cut by a skate last Monday and may not be ready when the Canes resume Tuesday.

Jamie Benn
Left Wing - DAL
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 42
SOG: 124 | +/-: 10
Returning -- Dallas' Jamie Benn (appendectomy) took part in All-Star Weekend and will be back in the Stars' lineup when they resume play on Wednesday. … Chicago expects forward Patrick Sharp (wrist) to return to the lineup this week during the Hawks' trip through Western Canada. … New Jersey's Adam Larsson (wrist) and Adam Henrique (groin), both of whom sat out All-Star Weekend to nurse injuries, are expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday. … Phoenix got defenseman Adrian Aucoin (lower body) and center Daymond Langkow (upper body) back for its last pre-All Star game on Tuesday. … Edmonton defenseman Ryan Whitney, plagued by ankle problems for most of the season, was in the lineup on Tuesday for the first time since Dec. 22. … Islanders goaltender Al Montoya played Tuesday for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 20.

Still out -- Calgary goaltender Henrik Karlsson (knee) has resumed practicing and will head to AHL Abbotsford after the All-Star break. … Montreal captain Brian Gionta hopes to return before the end of the season; he's recovering from surgery on his torn right biceps earlier this month. … New Jersey center Travis Zajac, sidelined with a sore Achilles tendon, has not resumed skating and there's no timetable for his return. He hasn't played since Jan. 2. New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene, sidelined with a broken foot, is slated to resume skating on Monday. … Pittsburgh placed center Jordan Staal (knee) on long-term injured reserve, but he's eligible to return as soon as he's healthy. … Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov had knee surgery last week and won't return until March at the earliest.

The week ahead -- The All-Star break ends with a bang -- there are 13 games on the schedule when action resumes Tuesday night.

Games to watch:

Chicago at Vancouver (Jan. 31; TSN) -- The Blackhawks start their nine-game road trip with a bang as they visit Rogers Arena, where the Canucks have been among the NHL's toughest home teams this season.

New York Rangers at Buffalo (Feb. 1; NBCSP/TSN2) -- The Sabres, who finished a seven-game road trip in Montreal on Tuesday, welcome the Rangers in their first game at home since Jan. 14.

Detroit at Vancouver (Feb. 2) -- The Wings, like the Hawks, spend the first week after the break in Western Canada -- giving the Canucks a tough pair of back-to-back home games.

St. Louis at Nashville (Feb. 4) -- Two of the hottest teams in the NHL get together at Bridgestone Arena as the Blues come to Music City in a battle between half of the four teams jousting for the Central Division lead.

Boston at Washington (Feb. 5; NBCSP) -- The Caps, who've been far better at home than on the road, welcome Boston to the Verizon Center for their third straight Super Bowl Sunday game.

Tough week ahead:

Chicago Blackhawks -- The Hawks won't see the inside of the United Center for nearly three weeks as they begin a marathon nine-game road trip. This week's installment runs through Western Canada, beginning with a playoff rematch in Vancouver.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- If you're trying to climb out of last place, there are easier ways to do it than re-starting your season with three games in four nights in California, which is what the Jackets do beginning Tuesday in San Jose.

Winnipeg Jets -- If the Jets are going to make a playoff push, they'll have to survive this week, which will see them play four games in six days while visiting Philadelphia, the two Florida teams and Montreal.

Easy week ahead:

Calgary Flames -- The opposition (Detroit and Chicago) may be difficult, but the Flames get to ease their way back into the schedule with only two games, both at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Phoenix Coyotes -- What could be nicer than a week in the desert in the middle of winter? If you're the Coyotes, it's a schedule that has them playing only two games (Anaheim and San Jose), both at home.

Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Bolts continue a five-game homestand with three games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, with Washington, Winnipeg and Florida coming to town.
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