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Pen's Gonchar not bothered by All-Star ballot snub

Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007

Sergei Gonchar is off to his best start in three seasons with the Penguins with five goals and 19 points through 20 games -- tied for first among NHL defensemen.

That sort of production should be expected from one of the premier players at his position, and Gonchar has spent this decade proving he is a top-tier offensive defenseman.

Apparently, though, the NHL disagrees. Gonchar is not listed on its All-Star ballot.

According to a league spokesperson, the hockey operations department has the final decision on the All-Star ballot, which was finalized at the end of October and based on performance from previous seasons.

Gonchar ranked second, eighth, first and second (tied) in scoring by defensemen after each of the past four seasons.

"And I would still definitely say he is underrated," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "But players know how good he is, and that is what is important to him."

Gonchar is the only current defenseman to record at least 50 points in each of the past seven seasons.

He has scored more goals (104) than any defenseman dating to 2000, and his 385 points during that span are second to only Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, who has 391.

Gonchar has 144 points in 177 games since signing with the Penguins as a free agent on Aug. 3, 2005. Only Sidney Crosby has since produced more.

Crosby, admittedly stunned by the All-Star ballot slight to Gonchar, offered a possible explanation:

"Maybe it is because of the attention our whole team gets with the young guys -- (Malkin), me and Jordan (Staal)," Crosby said. "I am not sure. I certainly do not think he is underappreciated in our dressing room."

A quiet leader as an alternate captain, Gonchar is a calming veteran presence on a club filled with young players -- including Malkin, a fellow Russian whom Gonchar has welcomed into his home.

Gonchar's willingness to speak daily with the media, especially following each loss during a current difficult stretch, has not gone unnoticed by teammates. And his on-ice play has only added to the esteem he has earned.

"In terms of respect around here, he is not shorted," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Maybe nationally it is a different story, but I cannot understand why.

"If you look, he has been pretty consistent every single year. He has (over 50 points) every single year. A lot of defensemen have up and down years offensively. That is something you never have to worry about with him. That is something that does not get talked about with him."

Not a lot gets talked about when it comes to Gonchar, aside from constant criticism of his defense from fans on message boards and sports talk shows, and members of the national hockey media.

Sure-thing Sarge
Sergei Gonchar was tied for the NHL lead in scoring among defenseman as of Monday. A look at Gonchar's start through 20 games in each of his three seasons with the Penguins:
Season Goals Assists Points Plus/minus Final pts./NHL rank*
2005-06 3 5 8 minus-6 58/8th
2006-07 3 11 14 even 67/2nd
2007-08 5 14 19 minus-4 TBD
* Among defensemen
Source: NHL

He has never been selected a first-team NHL All-Star, though he did earn second-team honors in 2001-02 and 2002-03. His highest finish in voting for the Norris Trophy was fourth in 2002.

Add the All-Star Game ballot snub this season and Gonchar could be forgiven for carrying a chip on his shoulder.

Instead, he cannot muster faux bemusement at the lack of adulation sent his way.

"My job is to play hockey," Gonchar said. "(Everybody) else can decide if I deserve (praise). If you start to think about it, then you stop playing your best."

Gonchar's best is more than enough to impress Crosby.

"He is so patient and skilled with the puck," Crosby said. "Just the little things like getting a puck through a guy's stick or under it. Or just the way he finds guys. Sometimes he is not even really skating that fast, and he is able to shift guys.

"He has got skill, and he is smart. And he has been doing it for a long time."




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