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Pens' Neal replaces Ovechkin for All-Star Weekend

by Adam Kimelman
Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal, who has emerged as a top offensive threat this season, will take his high-skill game to Ottawa for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game.

The NHL announced Wednesday that Neal will replace Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who opted out of the All-Star Weekend festivities.

Neal, who had just one goal in 20 games after joining the Penguins last season, went into the All-Star break tied for second in the League with 27 goals, and tied for the League lead with 13 power-play goals.

His goal Tuesday against St. Louis put him one ahead of fellow All-Star Evgeni Malkin for the team lead in goals, and he's second to Malkin on the team with 47 points. The goal also was the 100th of his NHL career.

With 27 goals in 49 games, Neal has tied his career high, set in 78 games in 2009-10.

Neal is the fourth replacement player named to the All-Star roster. On Monday, Letang and Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle were added as injury replacements for Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and Minnesota forward Mikko Koivu, and on Tuesday, Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell was added in place of Chicago forward Jonathan Toews. Also on Monday, Minnesota forward Nick Johnson was added to the rookie group in place of injured Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Ovechkin removed himself from the All-Star events Tuesday. He had been handed a three-game suspension by the NHL on Monday for a charging incident with Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek during Sunday's game between the Capitals and Penguins, and Capitals General Manager George McPhee said Ovechkin didn't feel comfortable going to Ottawa as a suspended player.

"Because he's a suspended player he doesn't feel he deserves to be there, so he's not going to go," McPhee said. "He doesn't want to be a distraction to the event. ... You know what all the questions are going to be, so it is a great event and he doesn't want that distraction and we don't want it, either."

McPhee said the Capitals stand behind Ovechkin's decision.

There was no League rule prohibiting Ovechkin from taking part in any of the All-Star Weekend events.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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