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Host Senators have 4 elected NHL All-Stars

By Ira Podell
AP Sports Writer / January 5, 2012
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NEW YORK—The Ottawa Senators are assured of having at least four familiar faces on the ice when they host the NHL All-Star game this month.

Defenseman Erik Karlsson led all vote-getters in fan balloting, and captain Daniel Alfredsson and fellow forwards Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza also were elected for the game on Jan. 29.

The NHL said Thursday they will be joined by Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf and Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas in this year's game.

The four Senators hold the top four spots on the club's scoring list, with Spezza leading the way with 40 points -- three more than Karlsson. However, Karlsson topped everyone in the league with 939,951 votes, 42,536 more than Alfredsson. Michalek got his spot with a late rush, beating out Toronto's Phil Kessel by 42,144 votes. Kessel had been in line to be voted in all during the election period.

"It's great, obviously, to see all four of us getting in," Alfredsson said. "You look at Jason, Erik, and Milan, too, they've had great starts to the season. If we would have had to choose one player, it would have been tough because they've all played great to start the season. To be able to all get in when it is in Ottawa, it's going to be a special occasion for all of us and something we'll cherish forever, I'm sure."

About 24 million votes were cast by fans from Nov. 14 until Jan. 4 in the all-digital balloting, a 66-percent increase over last season. It is the third-highest total since voting went to an exclusive digital format in 2007.

Missing from the initial list of stars are Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who leads the NHL with 27 goals, along with Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, Kessel, Jonathan Toews of Chicago, and Pittsburgh's James Neal -- the next four top goal scorers ahead of Michalek.

"I didn't think I had a shot," Michalek said. "I was really surprised when I looked up this morning and my name was there. The fans did a great job."

None of the NHL's top 10 point scorers this season were voted into the game by fans. Spezza is tied for 11th in scoring with 40 points.

The remaining 36 All-Stars will be chosen later this month, and the two team rosters will be determined for a second straight year by the fantasy draft during All-Star weekend. Each team will have 12 forwards, six defensemen and three goalies.

Phaneuf will join the 21-year-old Karlsson on defense after garnering 614,933 votes. The Senators nearly got a fifth player elected, but Phaneuf with 614,933 votes edged Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar by 11,305 for the final spot on the blue line.

Thomas, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner from the defending Stanley Cup champions, easily won the goalie race with 626,540 votes -- 128,000 more than Toronto's James Reimer.

Thomas set the NHL record for save percentage last season with a mark of .938, and is having another impressive season for the Bruins, who started Thursday one point behind the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers. Thomas is 17-6 with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage -- even better than his record-setting mark of last season. He is 14-2 in his past 16 decisions.

Michalek, who recently returned following a five-game absence because of a concussion, has scored 19 goals in 35 games. He has already exceeded his total of 18 from last season and is three away from matching his career-best of 22, set in the 2009-10 season.

Alfredsson is third on the Senators' scoring list with 28 points, two more than Michalek, in his 16th NHL season -- all with Ottawa. He led forwards with 897,055 votes, followed by Spezza with 817,483, and Michalek with 743,977.

"It means a lot," said Alfredsson, now a six-time All-Star. "You don't always look for acknowledgment, but at this stage of my career I think you reflect a little bit more maybe than you did a few years back, so getting this chance to be part of these festivities, showcase the game in front of a crowd like we have is something I look forward to and something I'm going to cherish."

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