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Kovalev, Thornton get the All-Star "C"

by John Kreiser
Montreal forward Alex Kovalev will be wearing the captain's "C" in front of the home folks at Sunday's All-Star Game.

Kovalev was named captain of the Eastern Conference team and San Jose center Joe Thornton will wear the "C" for the Western Conference squad when the NHL holds its 57th All-Star Game at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Kovalev, now 35, was the first Russian-born player to be taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft when he was selected by the New York Rangers with the 15th pick in 1991. He came to the Canadiens in March 2004 in a deal with New York and led the team in scoring last season with 35 goals and 84 points — the most points by a Montreal player since 1995-96 and his biggest season since getting 44 goals and 95 points for Pittsburgh 2000-01.

He struggled for much of the first half of the current season, but reached the All-Star break with 12 goals, 21 assists and 33 points, three behind team leader Robert Lang. He also wore the captain's "C" for a big chunk of the first half when Saku Koivu was sidelined with an injury.

"I'm trying not to do too much," he said of his struggles in the early portion of the season. "I came out this year and felt pretty good, so I felt like I could do a little bit extra. But it was time to go back and not try to do everything by yourself, and use your partners a little bit."

In 1,119 NHL games with the Rangers, Penguins and Canadiens, Kovalev has 380 goals, 529 assists and 909 points.

Kovalev is making his third All-Star appearance. He had a goal and an assist for the World team in 2001 and went without a point while playing for the East team in 2003. He's also scheduled to be one of the contestants in the Scotiabank Fan Fav NHL Breakaway Challenge during the Honda/NHL SuperSkills competition the night before the game.

Thornton, who joined the Sharks in a trade with Boston in November 2005, is one of the NHL's top setup men and point producers. He reached the All-Star break with 55 points, seventh in the NHL, and was tied with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for second in the League with 43 assists.

"I'm shocked and excited," said Thornton. "It's a big honor to be named captain of an All-Star Team.  Unbelievable. There are so many good players on the team.  They must have picked me because I'm getting old."

Thornton, the No. 1 pick in the 1997 Entry Draft by Boston, has been an offensive force since joining the Sharks early in the 2005-06 season. His two assists in Tuesday's 2-1 overtime victory against Vancouver gave him 351 points in his 266 games as a Shark, third on the franchise's all-time scoring list.

The 29-year-old has been the NHL's most prolific passer in each of the last three seasons. He topped the League with 67 assists in 2007-08 on his way to a 95-point season, and was also tops with 92 assists in 2006-07 and 96 in 2005-96, when he also won the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion with 125 points.

"When he's out there throwing passes you have to be ready at all times because he'll find you," linemate Devin Setoguchi said. "When you think he won't find you, he'll put the puck on your stick. My first two goals in the NHL were great passes from behind the net, and it wasn't very hard for me to put them in the net."

Thornton is appearing in his sixth consecutive All-Star Game, but is still looking for his first goal. He didn't have a point in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2007, and recorded one assist in last year's game at Atlanta.

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