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Pens assistant believes Bruins' return important

If the Boston Bruins are indeed back - as their Eastern Conference-best point total near the season's halfway point suggests - count Penguins assistant coach Andre Savard among fans of that development. "It's important for the league to see ... the 'Original Six' doing well and have people in the stands," said Savard, who played for the Bruins after they selected him sixth overall in the 1973 entry draft. "The success of those teams is good for the NHL." This season is shaping up as one that will be defined by the NHL's charter clubs, and not just because of surprising early season success by the Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. The New York Rangers and defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings lead their respective divisions. Also, the Montreal Canadiens are celebrating their 100th season. Even the Toronto Maple Leafs are exceeding expectations under new coach Ron Wilson.

� Defenseman Hal Gill's return to the Penguins' lineup Tuesday did not force one of his peers to the press box. Coach Michel Therrien decided to dress seven defensemen against the Bruins at Mellon Arena. Gill, out since his left shoulder was injured in a loss at Ottawa on Dec. 6, was paired with Ryan Whitney. The other defense pairings were Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi and Philippe Boucher and Mark Eaton.

� Rookie Alex Goligoski, tops among club defensemen with 6 goals and 18 points, dressed due to his power-play prowess, Savard said. Goligoski also skated shifts as winger on a line with forward Tim Wallace and center Dustin Jeffrey. "We don't like to have people sit on the bench and not play," said Savard, who runs the Penguins' defense.

� Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury may join teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the Eastern Conference starting lineup at the All-Star Game at Montreal. Fleury held a 39,363-vote lead on Montreal goalie Carey Price in fan voting as of 7 a.m. yesterday. Fans can cast votes at NHL.com until Jan. 2. Crosby and Malkin are the 1-2 in voting among East forwards. Each player has surpassed the 1 million-vote mark.

� The Penguins re-assigned left wing Paul Bissonnette to AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton prior to the game. He has appeared in eight games this season. Right wing Eric Godard, Center Mike Zigomanis and defenseman Kris Letang were scratched last night. Each is out with an undisclosed injury.

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