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Kessel claims lead in All-Star balloting @NHLdotcom

Toronto forward Phil Kessel is getting the type of punches on his All-Star ballot befitting a Hart Trophy candidate.

Kessel, who leads the NHL with 16 goals and 31 points, has taken the overall lead in the 2012 NHL All-Star Fan Balloting with 258,446 votes after two weeks of voting. He was second among forwards and third overall last week in the voting for the 2012 Tim Horton's NHL All-Star Game, which takes place Jan. 29 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.

Kessel jumped a pair of Ottawa Senators to claim first place this week. Defenseman Erik Karlsson, who led the voting last week, dropped to second overall with 256,839 votes. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson is third with 233,868 votes.

Karlsson leads the NHL with 20 assists and all defensemen with 21 points. Alfredsson, the popular Senators captain, has only 9 points in 17 games this season, but the Ottawa fans appear to be rewarding him for his 16 seasons of service.

Senators center Jason Spezza remained third among forwards with 209,455 votes, but Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf jumped him to move into fourth place overall and second among defensemen with 213,617.

Phaneuf also surged ahead of Boston captain Zdeno Chara (184,457 votes), Penguins blueliner Kris Letang (195,570 votes) and Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom (169,218 votes). Chara was second among defensemen last week but is now fourth. Lidstrom, who was third, is now fifth among defensemen.

The one to keep an eye on is Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who is fourth among forwards and sixth overall with 206,863 votes. Crosby was ninth among forwards and 19th overall last week, but he picked up 132,335 votes after making his season debut last week, a 162-percent increase. He has 9 points in four games heading into Tuesday's showdown against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Another forward who appears to be surging is Toronto's Joffrey Lupul, who is now sixth among forwards and 13th overall with 166,787 votes. Lupul, who plays on the same line with Kessel and has 29 points, was 10th among forwards and 24th overall last week. He picked up more than 97,200 votes in one week.

Tim Thomas kept his lead among goalies with 175,315 votes, nearly 5,600 more than Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury. Despite sitting out with a possible concussion, Toronto's James Reimer still has 161,405 votes, good for third among goalies.

Fans can vote at Fans will determine the first 6 players chosen to participate in the 2012 Tim Horton's NHL All-Star Game (3 Forwards, 2 Defensemen, 1 Goalie). The virtual poll booth closes on Jan. 4.

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