Vincent Lecavalier is starting for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and linemate Martin St. Louis was added to the roster a few days later.
Not bad for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who entered the weekend with the second fewest points in the NHL and the worst mark in the East.
``He's on a team that is struggling. I think that has hurt him,'' Lightning coach John Tortorella said of Lecavalier's support. ``I think he is the best player in the league.''
Through Tampa Bay's first 44 games, Lecavalier had 28 goals and an NHL-best 63 points. He might be having an all-around better season than last year when he led the league with 52 goals.
And that didn't go unnoticed.
Lecavalier received 224,661 All-Star votes in fan balloting, second only to Sidney Crosby among Eastern forwards.
``To be voted in is really special,'' Lecavalier said. ``When you play with Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal, as a line I think we have great chemistry. That brings your numbers up.
``I try to get better every year and hopefully I'm going to finish the year strong.''
It's not easy to gain attention and support while playing for a last-place team in the Southeast Division, as opposed to Original Six clubs or those in hockey hotbed cities in Canada.
``I think the league pushed it that way, too,'' Tortorella said. ``We are in a nontraditional market down there although we have won a Stanley Cup. Some of these other teams haven't won a Stanley Cup in an awful long time.''
The Southeast produced back-to-back champions in 2004 and 2006 when Tampa Bay and Carolina hoisted the trophy on either side of the lockout. No Canadian team has won the Cup since Montreal in 1993.
``It's good for our organization,'' Tortorella said of the All-Star selections. ``We have some good players here. We have struggled this year in trying to find our way. Martin St. Louis doesn't get enough credit as far as what he is doing.''
St. Louis is second on the club to Lecavalier with 51 points.
The Lightning defeated Calgary in the 2004 finals, and Carolina edged Edmonton two years later - both in seven games. Before that, a team from Canada hadn't reached the last round since 1994 when Vancouver fell to the New York Rangers in Game 7.
Last season, Ottawa made it three straight trips to the finals for teams north of the border when the Senators fell to Anaheim in a five-game series.
RYAN'S HOPE: Ryan Getzlaf's surge to the Western Conference All-Star team stretched all the way back to last spring.
The Anaheim Ducks forward, the No. 19 overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft, had a solid season a year ago when he posted 25 goals and 58 points. He built on that during the Ducks' run to the Stanley Cup title.
Getzlaf, 22, had seven goals and a team-high 17 points in 21 postseason games.
``That's the biggest piece to this, is that last year we had the success that we did,'' Getzlaf said. ``We played as a group. And when you do go through those things, people notice the different things that you have to go through to create that kind of a championship team.
``When you get that recognition, it comes from the big games and the big events and that kind of stuff. But anyone will tell you that the playoffs create that buzz around them.''
While Getzlaf did get the All-Star call, it didn't come for close friend and teammate Corey Perry. Heading into the weekend, Getzlaf led the Ducks with 48 points, while Perry was tops with 23 goals.
``Corey's a hell of a player. It's unfortunate that he didn't get there,'' Getzlaf said. ``There's a lot of good players in our league. You can't take anything away from the guys that were selected. I would have loved to see Corey there and be able to experience it with him.''
Perry, who had 15 points during the playoff run, was also picked in the first round in 2003 - nine spots after Getzlaf.
``We don't talk about it that much,'' Getzlaf said. ``It was more he gave it to me, because I dropped pretty low from where I was ranked on that day. So he kind of gives it to me a little bit at times about that. But that was a long time ago.''
SENATE COMMITTEE: Ray Emery might have fallen out of favor in Ottawa, but Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson still has faith in the temperamental goalie.
Emery was a key reason why the Senators reached the Stanley Cup finals last season for the first time.
Since then, not much has gone right for the 25-year-old Ontario native.
Emery underwent wrist surgery during the offseason and hadn't recovered by the time this season began. When he came back, he wasn't quite up to par and started losing playing time to veteran Martin Gerber.
Then his effort in practice didn't endear him to first-year coach John Paddock, further drumming up bad publicity.
``In Canada, in the NHL, you're going to be under the microscope,'' Alfredsson said. ``All the little things are going to be made a little bit bigger.''
Late last month, the situation started to boil over even more.
Emery overslept and came to practice about five minutes before it began. He was then sent away by Paddock, who said he told the goalie to go home because Emery wasn't feeling well.
Only a day before that, Emery tossed a stick during a fit of anger before that night's game against the New York Islanders. Emery revealed then that his new backup status made it difficult to be motivated on the ice.
Not exactly the right message to be sent by a player who has two years at $3.167 million per season left on his deal.
Entering the weekend, Emery was 7-4-3-2 with a 2.85 goals-against average in 15 games. Gerber played in 30 of Ottawa's 42 games and helped them vault to first place in the Eastern Conference with 20 wins and a 2.57 GAA.
``For us it's been a much improved situation where Ray has really put a bigger effort into coming to the rink every day and working hard,'' Alfredsson said. ``That's what the coaches are looking for, too, for him to get more ice time, for him to play more. He needed to show them that he wanted to do that, which goes for any player, but especially a goalie.
``Because in practice, too, it's never fun if you go down to the goalie, you're going to shoot and he's not really trying. It's been a much improved situation for us.''
FUTURE STARS: Center Steven Stamkos and defenseman Drew Doughty, gold medalists for Team Canada at the recently completed world junior championships, are the top-ranked North American skaters eligible for this year's NHL draft.
Stamkos held the No. 1 position in midseason ratings released this week by the NHL Central Scouting Service . He was fourth on the Canadian team with six points in seven tournament games. He had 30 goals and 21 assists through 32 games with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League.
Doughty had four assists during Canada's run to the junior title.
Zach Bogosian, a defenseman from Massena, N.Y., playing for the OHL's Peterborough Petes was the top-ranked U.S. skater.
Chet Pickard of the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League was rated No. 1 among North American goalies.
OFF THE RACKS: Boosted by the outdoor Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, online sales of licensed NHL products surged during December.
Purchases were up 44 percent last month, compared to 2006, the league said. The New Year's Day game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., certainly helped. The most searched term was Winter Classic, and four of the six top-selling items were related to the game.

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