|Senators winger Milan Michalek ranks among the National Hockey League's early goal-scoring leaders with 11. He's one of five Sens on the ballot for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game at Scotiabank Place (Getty Images).
Milan Michalek is looking every bit the National Hockey League all-star these days.
With 11 goals in 18 outings to date, the speedy Ottawa Senators winger ranks in a tie for second spot in that category in the league, one behind NHL leader Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Michalek, one of five Senators on the fan ballot for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, is surely making a case to be among the players chosen for the mid-season classsic Jan. 29 at Scotiabank Place.
"He's doing a good job of getting to the net," centre Jason Spezza said in doing a little bit of campaigning for his linemate today in Calgary, where the Senators face off against the Flames on Tuesday night (9 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "When you're doing that and you're giving yourself good scoring opportunities all the time, you have a chance to score a lot of goals.
"More than ever, he's probably hanging around the front of the net and getting some tips and some good (chances) in front and using that big body of his. He's really figuring things out and it's been fun to play with him."
None of that surprises Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who became a fan of Michalek's during his days as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings. Health, he said, has been the only issue for the Czech winger, who missed 16 games each of the last two seasons because of injuries.
"I always felt the only thing holding (Michalek) back was injuries," MacLean said following Senators practice earlier today at the old Stampede Corral, the original NHL home of the Flames before the Saddledome was constructed for the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics. "He's a genuine, real National Hockey League winger with the ability to score and get to the net, to play the whole rink and play well with and without the puck.
"My opinion of him hasn't changed one little bit since I've been here."
Michalek's career bests of 26 goals and 66 points came in 2006-07 with the San Jose Sharks, who made the 6-2, 225-pound forward the sixth overall pick of the NHL entry draft in 2003. He's scored a combined 40 goals during his first two seasons in Ottawa since being acquired in a deal with the Sharks on the opening day of training camp in 2009, but is on pace to surpass that number in the current campaign alone.
"It would probably be a dream come true if I could make the team," Michalek told Sens TV. "Especially in Ottawa, lots of friends, lots of people would be there, so it would be special."
In all, the Senators have five players on the ballot for the 2012 all-star game. Besides Michalek, the group also includes Spezza, captain Daniel Alfredsson and blueliners Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar. Voting for your Sens is as easy as logging onto vote.nhl.com or by texting the player's last name to 81812.
Around the boards
Winger Chris Neil (ankle) has been placed on injured reserve and won't join the Senators on their current Western Canada trip, which also includes stops Thursday in Edmonton (9:30 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) and Sunday in Vancouver (9 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "He still has a sprained ankle," said MacLean. "Right now, he's not skating yet, but he's progressing." ... Defenceman Matt Carkner (knee) is on the trip, but MacLean doubts he'll be ready to play this week. "To have him practise three times and expect him to play ... he still needs to do more work," said MacLean. "But it's very positive for him that he's here to practise and get himself ready." ... The Senators have dropped their last four games at the Saddledome, with their last victory in Calgary coming on Jan. 9, 2003.