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Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth talks with players during first period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils in Montreal on Saturday, December 17, 2011. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth talks with players during first period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils in Montreal on Saturday, December 17, 2011. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

NHL LOOKAHEAD

All-star break comes at bad time for Habs Add to ...

Two of the players most in need to defensive lessons will be at the all-star game, where defence is just a rumour – wingers Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. They were reunited in the third period Saturday when Wilson was trying to find some scoring.

Lupul, who missed a chance to clear the puck on the Canadiens’ winning goal, finished minus-3. At least he is plus-2 for the season. Kessel is even. Neither mark is impressive for a team’s two best players even if they are among the NHL’s best scorers.

ONE BOOK TO READ

As a public service, the staff here at NHL Lookahead has a much better way for you to spend Sunday afternoon instead of watching the NHL all-star game.

First of all, a confession of bias: The fellow who wrote the book we’re going to recommend is a friend. But Gare Joyce is also pretty handy at putting words together, as noted in a favourable review a few days ago by The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Cannon. “Good to the final paragraph,” was the judgment of Cannon, so we’re not pumping a buddy’s tires as they like to say in hockey dressing rooms.

Like the NHL all-star game, The Code is a fictional look at hockey. But unlike the all-star game, Joyce’s story of a grinder-turned-scout, Brad Shade, and his attempts to solve the murder of a junior hockey legend while preserving the jobs of himself and his boss, The Code, from Penguin Canada, is thoroughly entertaining.

Joyce (whose moniker is G.B. Joyce on the book for some reason, thanks to one of the Penguin suits) presents a realistic take on the world of professional hockey, realistic enough to studiously avoid the use of NHL, in order to keep the league’s lawyers at bay. He also has some fun with the names of his characters.

There is the corpse, for example, of one Red Hanratty, a coach whose legend outstrips the reality, and whose name must have come from a perusal of the Hockey News archives from before the First World War.

Our favourite name is Billy Mays, senior and junior. Junior is a talented young player and the progeny of one of those detestable businessmen whose relentlessly upbeat approach is driven by slogans. Just like an infomercial pitch man.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

With the NHL’s general managers gathering at the all-star game in Ottawa this week, trade talks will heat up. Here’s five forwards certain to be discussed:

Bobby Ryan

The Anaheim Ducks winger is the prize of the group but general manager Bob Murray may not be inclined to trade him now that the Ducks are winning.

Ales Hemsky

Mr. Inconsistency is headed toward unrestricted free agency. The Edmonton Oilers winger is tempting to someone who thinks a chance of scenery will get him going.

Vaclav Prospal

He’ll be 38 in February and is also headed to free agency but unlike Hemsky, Prospal of the Columbus Blue Jackets is a consistent producer.

Tuomo Ruutu

Now we’re getting to the remainder bin. The Carolina Hurricanes forward is probably a little better than the rest of the names known to be in play.

Drew Stafford

He has three years left on his contract at $4-million (U.S.) a season, which is terrible value for his point-every-two-games pace. But the Buffalo Sabres winger is 26 and has some talent, so someone desperate might be tempted.

FIVE GAMES TO WATCH

Blues at Red Wings

The Central Division fight among the St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks is the best one in the league. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock is also fighting it out with Ottawa Senators counterpart Paul MacLean as coach of the year. Monday, 7:30 p.m., TSN2.

Senators at Kings

The aforementioned MacLean leads his Senators against the rejuvenated Los Angeles lads in Game 4 of their five-game trip. If you want to skip work for some reason on Tuesday, this would make a good back end of a doubleheader. Monday, 10:30 p.m., Sportsnet East.

Senators at Coyotes

As noted above, this is the return of Ottawa centre Kyle Turris to Phoenix, the team he could not wait to leave. Given the size of the Coyotes’ crowds, the boos will not be deafening. Tuesday, 9 p.m., Sportsnet East.

Bruins at Capitals Unless you have the NHL Centre Ice package, you’ll have to head for your local to see this one. But the Caps are showing signs of life so it might be worth it and chances are you won’t have to listen to Bruins play-by-play shill Jack Edwards at your pub. Tuesday, 7 p.m., NESN.

NHL all-star game

This game was listed just to tell you this: If you watch it, turn in your hockey fan card immediately. Sunday, 4 p.m., CBC, RDS.

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