Souray lives up to billing


Get past the howitzer, as impressive a trademark as it may be, and Sheldon Souray is much more versatile than anybody in the Edmonton Oilers' locker-room expected, possibly including himself.


Get past the howitzer, as impressive a trademark as it may be, and Sheldon Souray is much more versatile than anybody in the Edmonton Oilers' locker-room expected, possibly including himself.

He's their second-leading scorer and fifth among NHL defencemen with 23 points.

He's eating up a team-high 25 minutes nightly with only slightly less efficiency than Chris Pronger employed to extend his effectiveness as an Oiler in the 2005-06 run to the Stanley Cup final.

Souray kills penalties, usually moves the puck with a decent first pass out of the zone, and that horrendous plus/minus stat that preceded him from Montreal to Edmonton is a distant memory, now that he's a serviceable plus-one, tied for sixth on the team.

In fact, the 32-year-old from Elk Point, Alta., is so good right now that if the Oilers had to trade Lubomir Visnovsky to land a scoring forward like Ottawa Senators' Jason Spezza, they could almost feel comfortable doing it.

"The defence should be an elite defence in the league and most nights it is," head coach Craig MacTavish said.

He has basically taken the minutes, and paycheque, that were given to Pronger in 2005 and has proven worthy.

Which is not to suggest he has proven himself a one-for-one Pronger replacement, nor does he think he should fill that kind of role for the Oilers.

"It would be completely unfair to compare me to Chris Pronger because he's an elite player,'' Souray said. "His resume speaks for itself. He's a top three or four defenceman in the league.

"What I had to prove was not that I was going to be as good as him or replace him; it was me I had to live up to."

All-star voting heating up With time ticking down, the National Hockey League's Eastern Conference all-star fan voting looks like a two-team battle.

The Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins continue to dominate the East nominees for the Jan. 25 all-star showdown in Montreal, led by Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby has already set an all-star record with 1,109,007 votes, as of noon Tuesday, while Malkin is second among forwards with 999,320 votes.

Three Montreal forwards are fighting for the final spot up front, with Alexei Kovalev (805,893), Saku Koivu (797,370) and Alex Tanguay (788,667) separated by less than 17,300 votes.

On defence, Montreal's Andrei Markov is tops with 879,583 votes, with teammate Mike Komisarek a distant second with 813,001.

Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar, who has been out since the pre-season with a shoulder injury, is third with 795,500.

Penguins teammate Ryan Whitney is fourth with 757,166. Gonchar and Whitney aren't eligible to play as neither will have played in the required 20 regular-season games by Jan. 2.

The spot for the starting goaltender position is a tight race, with Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury (880,223) holding a slim lead over Montreal's Carey Price (872,259).

Voting is closed at 9 p.m. Jan. 2, 2009.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks were used to having a team Christmas party with plenty of wives and kids.

Only this year, the party was lacking in wives, and the kids were the players themselves.

"There are kids all around the room," Nikolai Khabibulin joked to the Daily Herald Times in Illinois. "They're just a little older."

Khabibulin is only one of five Blackhawks players who are married, and one of four players to have celebrated their 30th birthday.

The Blackhawks' roster includes 15 players who are 25 and under.

"It's definitely young and it's unique in that there's not as many kids," Chicago coach and former Spitfire Joel Quenneville told the newspaper. "I think when we skate on New Year's Eve at Wrigley (Field), I think Detroit has all their family and kids coming.

"I think they can probably suit up a couple teams with all their kids. We might not even have a roster. Our kids will be on the ice during our practice."

LIFE WITHOUT SUNDIN The New York Rangers returned home from a West Coast road trip with two wins and one loss.

With victories in Anaheim and Los Angeles and a loss in San Jose, it was considered a successful road swing.

The loss of Mats Sundin, who decided to sign with the Vancouver Canucks last week rather than to take the Rangers up on their offer, apparently wasn't much of a loss at all.

"We would have loved to have him join our team, there's no doubt about that," forward Markus Naslund told the Rockland Journal News.

"But, you never knew what it would take. We never knew if we had to lose a couple of guys. I like what we have going on here."

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