The Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane is leading the NHL’s best team in scoring with 12 goals and 27 points en route to a record-breaking 21-0-3 start. The South Buffalo native had a terrific first half and would be a candidate for Hart Trophy as the NHL most valuable player if votes were tallied today.
Chicago’s logic-defying start, which ended Friday with the loss to Colorado, was more the result of a balanced collection playing together combined with good defense and deep goaltending. Thirteen players scored game-winning goals for Chicago. Buffalo has had 17 players score all season.
The NHL’s most valuable player this season is also its best player, Sidney Crosby. The concussion problems behind him, Sid the Kid has re-established himself as the most dominant player in the league. Crosby had 11 goals and 39 points in his first 24 games to lead the NHL in scoring.
How valuable is he to the Penguins, who entered the weekend second in the Eastern Conference? Ask his linemate, Chris Kunitz. The winger entered the weekend third in NHL scoring, on pace for 28 goals and 62 points in 48 games. Both would be career highs for an 82-game season.
An argument also could be made for Eric Staal, who had 12 goals and 28 points this season for the Hurricanes. Staal had four winners and was tied for the league lead in plus-minus rating at plus-17. He’s been the biggest reason for the resurgence of Alex Semin, who had 23 points in 23 games and also was plus-17.
Here’s a look at my other midseason awards.
Norris Trophy (top defenseman): Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings. Kronwall is second among defensemen in scoring behind Kris Letang. Another, and bigger reason, is that he’s led a defense corps in the first season without former captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Kronwall moves the puck well and is better at taking the body than any D-man in the league.
Vezina Trophy (top goaltender): Craig Anderson, Senators. Ottawa didn’t just lose a few players but its best players. Leading scorer Jason Spezza and Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson are both out indefinitely. Anderson held them together and had an 8-4-2 record while leading the NHL in GAA (1.49) and save percentage (.952). Corey Crawford was second in wins (11), GAA (1.53) and SP (.940) with the ’Hawks.
Selke Trophy (top defensive forward): Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks. Toews’ commitment to his own end is what makes him the best two-way player in the NHL. He takes pressure off Kane regardless of when they’re on the ice together. He’s winning nearly 60 percent of his faceoffs and was plus-12. Former winner Patrice Bergeron is right with him.
Calder Trophy (top rookie): Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers. The easy choice is former Canisius star Cory Conacher, the Lightning winger who is leading rookies in scoring with seven goals and 20 points. Huberdeau had 11 goals and 16 points while playing with less talent around him. The Oilers have a good one in defenseman Justin Schultz.
Jack Adams (top coach): Michel Therrien, Canadiens. The Habs moved from worst in the conference to first at the halfway point in Therrien’s first season. Bruce Boudreau had the Ducks, who finished 13th in the West, off to a 16-3-3 start. Joel Quenneville and Chicago had a 21-0-3 start, making it difficult to vote against him.
Lady Byng (most gentlemanly): Martin St. Louis, Lightning. For years, he has held a clinic on how to be productive, competitive and clean. He was fourth in the NHL with 31 points while taking three minor penalties. Kane isn’t known for gentlemanly conduct, but he had only one minor in 24 games.
The Flyers, with preseason expectations high and midseason productivity low, are running out of options for the quick fix. They were hoping their implosion Thursday against the Penguins, when they blew a 4-1 lead in a 5-4 loss, was the bottom. Coach Peter Laviolette’s job is safe, for now.
“I don’t think anybody is waiting for a change,” center Danny Briere said. “That’s the frustrating part, two games in a row where it’s not like we played bad the whole game, but we had segments where we just fall asleep. We lacked a little bit of maturity. At some point, it’s not about shake-ups anymore. It’s about players making it happen.”
Talent isn’t an issue. Philadelphia signed veteran winger Mike Knuble shortly after the season began and re-acquired Simon Gagne from Los Angeles. The Flyers still have a roster that’s capable of winning the Atlantic Division, but they were in last place in the division and 11th in the conference going into the weekend.
The problems: Philly leads the league in penalties, too many of which were A) lazy or B) stupid. Their Broad Street bang has been missing too many nights. Add loose defense and mediocre goaltending, and you get an underachieving team.
Ilya Bryzgalov had a 2.19 GAA and .924 save percentage in his first six starts and woke up Saturday with a 2.79 GAA and .899 SP.
Hansen’s big day
Vancouver’s visit to Calgary last weekend was adventurous enough, but forward Jannik Hansen crammed more into 24 hours than most people do in a lifetime.
The Canucks were set to fly to Calgary after beating the Kings last Saturday. The airport was closed by a storm, forcing the flight to be delayed to the next day. Hansen drove home and found his wife in labor with twins. She delivered Daniel and Lucas – the Hansen Brothers? – about 5 a.m. Hansen stayed with her for another five hours.
Hansen still had time to drive home, change his clothes and catch a flight that was delayed by 45 minutes to Calgary. The Canucks arrived about two hours before faceoff. Hansen scored a goal in a 4-2 loss and was uncharacteristically quiet afterward.
“It’s hard to describe,” he said. “It’s just a special feeling.”
Now that Ryan Getzlaf’s contract is out of the way, look for the Ducks to quickly turn their attention to re-signing winger Corey Perry. They are the same age and valued similarly within the organization.
Getzlaf signed an eight-year deal worth $66 million. He insisted on a no-movement clause after hearing his name kicked around in trade rumors last season. Perry is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. With the Ducks going in the right direction, he wants to stick around.
“Getzy and I have talked a bunch of times,” Perry told the L.A. Times. “I’m not going to sit here and say yes or no. It’s one of those things where I’ll wait and see what happens. ... Obviously it helps when you know he’s going to be here for a long time. It could definitely have an effect on my issues.”
Dollars and sense
Speaking of the Ducks, GM Bob Murray deserves major praise for getting the most bang for his buck. The Ducks had the 22nd-highest payroll and the second-best record in the NHL going into the weekend.
Every team that was ahead of Buffalo in the league standings was spending less this season on player salaries. Florida and Columbus were one point behind Buffalo in the standings. The Panthers were spending about $7 million less while the Blue Jackets were spending about $11 million less.
The Sabres had the eighth-highest payroll and third-worst record. It’s not the return on investment they wanted after inexplicably giving GM Darcy Regier a contract extension.
A productive Kessel
Leafs fans yearning for more production from a Kessel can turn their attention to University of Minnesota star Amanda. Phil’s younger sister has put up gaudy numbers while leading the Golden Gophers to a 37-0 record this season.
Amanda had 43 goals and 94 points in 32 games before she was shut out Friday in a 5-0 victory against Ohio State. The junior’s 0-0-0 stat line snapped a 40-game point streak, which started Feb. 17, 2012, and was the longest in the nation.
Minnesota reached the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship game for the fifth straight season and was set to play North Dakota on Saturday. The Gophers had not allowed a goal in 320 minutes and 56 seconds, or more than 16 periods. The women’s Frozen Four will be held in Minneapolis.
Phil Kessel had 41 goals and had 73 points in 31 games with the U.S. developmental program in 2004-05. He had six goals and 20 points in his first 25 games this season.
Lightning forward Tom Pyatt, after seeing his teammates celebrating and realizing he scored a goal against Pittsburgh after the puck bounced off of his face: “I was down on my knees checking my teeth.”
Around the boards
• The Blues don’t need to look very far for answers for a 6-8-2 skid. St. Louis was outscored, 17-0, in the third period of its 10 losses during that stretch. Its 6-1 start is keeping playoff aspirations afloat. The Blues called veteran Jason Arnott for a tryout. Look for them to sign him to a one-year deal once he shakes off the rust.
• Jeff Carter shoots first and asks questions later, evident in his 218 goals and 177 assists in his eight-year career. It’s even more skewed this season. Carter had 16 goals, second-most in the NHL, in 22 games this season. He had a grand total of two assists..