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First Line Has Been First-Rate

January 31, 2002

There has been a noticeable difference in the Mighty Ducks' top line for a little more than a week. They are scoring goals.

All season, Coach Bryan Murray has been trying to find a pair of forwards who could take the pressure of right wing Paul Kariya. Center Andy McDonald and left wing Mike Leclerc seem to be doing the job.

Before Wednesday's game with Columbus, the Ducks' top line a goal in the six games since Leclerc joined McDonald and Kariya.

Leclerc's size (6 feet 2, 208 pounds) has meshed well with the smaller, quicker Kariya and McDonald.

"When you play against a tough defensive team, it helps to have Mike out there to get some grinding stuff and some plays behind the net," Kariya said. "He does a great job in front of the net in creating the dirty kind of goals that we've been getting lately."

Leclerc was one of several players tried out on the top line earlier this season. This time, moving Leclerc to Kariya's line has worked. Leclerc has scored four of the line's six goals in the five-game streak.

"They are a creative line," Murray said. "Mike Leclerc has really provided some energy and size. Andy and Paul are small, but they play like a bugger."

The line added to its numbers in the second period Wednesday when McDonald scored off an assist from Leclerc.

Columbus' center Espen Knutsen, a former Duck, was named to the World team for the All-Star game, which will be played Saturday at Staples Center.

Knutsen had eight goals and 31 points in 49 games before Wednesday.

He replaces Dallas' Jere Lehtinen, who is injured. Knutsen is the first Norwegian to play in the NHL All-Star game.

"I don't know what to expect, really," Knutsen told reporters Tuesday. "Actually, I'm kind of nervous about all of this. To be around all those great players."

Chris Foster

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