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Scorers galore on Eastern All-Star roster

by Brad Holland
The NHL All-Star game is not traditionally a penalty-filled encounter. That's a lucky reality for the Western Conference All-Stars.

Were it otherwise, the Eastern Conference team would be rolling out one of the most deadly power plays in the history of hockey, especially after the Eastern Conference reserves were announced by the NHL Thursday.

In fact, if one was to outline an "ideal" power-play unit, complete with passers, shooters, set-up men and crease-crashers … well, that list would look a lot like the roster for the 2009 Eastern Conference All-Stars.

Pittsburgh forwards Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and the Montreal quarter of Alex Kovalev, Carey Price, Mike Komisarek and Andrei Markov  were elected by the fans as starters. Thursday, the NHL added the reserves to fill a roster that hosts many of the most recognizable -- and offensively dangerous -- names in hockey.

Up front, one of the most offensively gifted groups in recent years will be headlined by starters Crosby, Malkin and Kovalev, along with Washington's Alex Ovechkin, Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier, Carolina's Eric Staal, Buffalo's Thomas Vanek, Boston's Marc Savard, New Jersey's Zach Parise, Ottawa's Dany Heatley, Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk and Philadelphia's Jeff Carter.

All told, the dozen forwards on the Eastern roster average 16 goals, 25 assists and 41 points. Think about that: the average forward on the Eastern Conference team would still be tied for 15th overall in League Scoring. It's almost mind-boggling.

It's a good thing the Western Conference has a solid defensive unit. They're going to need it. And even as accomplished as Western defensemen Nick Lidstrom, Brian Campbell, Dan Boyle, Shea Weber, Sheldon Souray and Scott Niedermayer are, it is going to be difficult to contain these dynamic forwards and this could be a year where a fair number of penalties against the Western Conference are called.

Woe to the West if that happens. The Eastern All-Stars are absolutely stacked with power-play players.

Imagine a first power-play unit where Andrei Markov quarterbacks a group made up of Sidney Crosby controlling the puck down low, Evgeni Malkin and his potent slap shot looking for one-timers from the blue line, Alexander Ovechkin set up in the slot looking for quick-passes and rebounds, and trigger-man Dany Heatley prowling on the back door?

If that doesn't float your boat, how about an alternate unit of Zdeno Chara and Mark Streit holding down the blue line, with Lecavalier controlling the wall looking for super-snipers Vanek and Kovalchuk milling around the slot?

But, it doesn't end there. The Eastern coach -- likely Boston's Claude Julien -- has a viable third option. How's this sound? Silky-smooth veteran Tomas Kaberle and Staal manning the points, while Marc Savard sets up Zach Parise and Jeff Carter in front of the net.

The bottom line is that the Eastern Conference is dangerous. Period.

In fact, of the top five goal-scorers in the League, each is from the Eastern Conference and only Boston's Phil Kessel, who is enjoying his finest pro season in his young career, will not be heading to Montreal. The other four: Ovechkin, Carter, Vanek, and Parise will all be looking to turn the Montreal crowd on its head come Jan. 25 at the Bell Center.

In addition, the top five point-getters in the NHL also call the Eastern Conference home and each of them -- Malkin, Ovechkin, Crosby, Savard, and Parise -- will be in attendance in Montreal for All-Star weekend.

For a city, and a crowd, used to the best and brightest, the most amazing plays and most dominant brand of hockey, these superstars will fit right in.

And if the West starts running around, taking penalties and putting the Eastern Conference on power plays, well…

At least they can't say they haven't been warned.

But it isn't all offense for the East. In goal, starter Price will be joined by Boston's Tim Thomas and the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist. And on defense, Markov and Komisarek will head a defense rounded out by Florida's Jay Bouwmeester, Boston's Zdeno Chara, the Islanders' Mark Streit, and Toronto's Tomas Kaberle.

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