In the first half of last season there was open speculation about whether or not Alexander Ovechkin's best days were over. He was off to a relatively slow start. Things turned around and he finished with the NHL goal scoring lead and won his third Hart Trophy. I argue it was a poor choice, but it wasn't a totally off the wall selection. This year he is again leading the NHL in goals. With four goals scored today, he is up to 26 goals on the season. The problem is none of his numbers other than goals are as impressive.
Ovechkin only has nine assists on the season. This is good enough to put him in sixth place on his team tied with Martin Erat. His -10 +/- rating is a team worst. His once dominant Corsi numbers are long gone. In short, Ovechkin has abandoned several parts of his all-around game to concentrate on goal scoring. He is very good at goal scoring, as his league leading totals show, but he would be a more valuable player to his team if he played a more well-rounded game and let his goal totals fall a bit.
Last week I wrote about the AHL scoring race. Colton Sceviour of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate) had pulled into a tie with Travis Morin his teammate. Morin had been the early points leader, but he fell off the pace because he was called up to the NHL. Morin played three games with Dallas before being returned to the AHL.
The early season top contender to Morin's point lead had been Nikita Kucherov of the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay affiliate). He has been called up to the NHL as well and remains on the Tampa Bay roster.
Last season the New York Islanders were a surprise playoff team. They took the eighth seed in the East Conference and some saw them as a team on the rise. That hasn't happened so far this year. The main reason for this is poor goaltending. Evgeni Nabokov was expected to be their number one goalie. At age 38, he no longer seems capable of playing at the NHL level. In 14 games played he has posted a 3.30 GAA and a .892 saves percentage.
There is no proven backup on Long Island. Kevin Poulin has done little to prove he is NHL worthy. He had played 21 games over three seasons but accomplished nothing too noteworthy. This year he is proving he isn't capable of a regular NHL job. He is posting a 3.15 GAA and a .888 saves percentage through fourteen games played.
About a month ago I picked Tuukka Rask as the top goalie so far this season. He has been passed in the Vezina race by Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. Price is posting a .938 saves percentage and a 1.95 GAA with a weaker defence in front of him then Rask has in Boston.
It is a myth that Team Canada has a weakness in goal for the 2014 Olympics. Perhaps they didn't have a goalie who was a serious contender in the 2013 Vezina race, but they have the top goalie in the league right now. Carey Price would be a strong choice to be the top goalie for Canada in the Olympics.
Price was a top draft pick in 2005 coming fifth overall. He was a successful junior goalie in international play. His development into a Vezina worthy goalie at the NHL level has been slower than some hoped. However at age 26, Price is only beginning to enter his prime years. He could be a top NHL goalie for many years to come. Right now he is the leading contender for the Vezina Trophy.
At the beginning of November, I picked Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks as the Lady Byng Trophy leader. While he is a contender for the award, I don't think he is the leader on his own San Jose team. Joe Thornton has more points (31 vs. 28) and fewer penalty minutes (2 vs. 6). Joe Thornton is a better Lady Byng Trophy candidate.
Thornton is a future Hall of Famer who has won the Hart Trophy, but he has never been a serious Lady Byng Trophy candidate before this season. In fact, he has exceeded 100 penalty minutes three times in his earlier career. The veteran Thornton has played a more and more sportsmanlike game. In 2011/12 he had 31 penalty minutes in 82 games played. He is on pace to significantly reduce that total this year. He is also on pace to have his best offensive season since 2008.
Joe Thornton is a top NHL player who has had a very good career. He might be on pace to increase his Hall of Fame credentials with another good season that could lead to the Lady Byng Trophy.
It was over three weeks ago when I last wrote about the AHL scoring race. Travis Morin of the Texas Stars (Dallas affiliate) had re-taken the lead from Nikita Kucherov of the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay affiliate). Both of those players are on NHL rosters right now and therefore are not adding to their AHL totals. Morin remains tied for the AHL scoring lead with 29 points in his 19 AHL games. He has been caught by teammate Colton Sceviour. He required 24 games to get to that level. The two are three points ahead of any other contender in the scoring race.
Sceviour is a 24 year old who has been in the AHL since 2009. He has never approached point per game scoring rates in that time. With 53 and 52 points in each of his last two seasons, we had a good reason to expect when knew his ceiling. This season he seems to be surpassing it. I wouldn`t expect him to manage to hold onto the scoring lead all season, but he may stay among the top scorers this year.
A big part of the AHL scoring race will depend upon who plays in the league and who moves onto the NHL. Should Morin or Kucherov return to the league for the rest of the season, they may be hard to beat. If they remain in the NHL, it is anyone`s race and Colton Sceviour is in the lead right now.
A couple days ago I wrote about the NHL's +/- rating leader Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks. He has been passed by Justin Braun of the San Jose Sharks. He is a player who is interesting for different reasons.
Braun leads the NHL with a +19 +/- rating. This gives him a two point lead over anyone else. He has eight points in 26 games played from defence so far. Braun is a player that I have viewed as approximately a replacement level defenceman for the last couple years. He has been a defensive role player in San Jose for a little over two years. He was sometimes a healthy scratch who was used in a shutdown role. This season he has earned a chance to play regularly - perhaps in the spot opened up when Brent Burns moved to forward.
Three weeks ago I picked Tom Sestito of the Vancouver Canucks as the worst player so far this season. He has scored two goals since that point to move him out of the cellar but he remains a player with poor puck possession numbers who rarely scores, yet nonetheless dresses every game despite only getting played a bit over five minutes per game.
I think a better pick as the worst regular player in the NHL this season is Mike Weber of the Buffalo Sabres. He has no points in his 15 games while posting a -15 +/- rating. He was a strong contender for this dishonor earlier in the year when he missed ten games with an upper body injury. Weber has come back from injury and been equally ineffective in his four games since coming back.
The current +/- leader in the NHL is Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks. He has a +18 +/- rating with 21 games played. He has 20 points in those games and that is good for third offensively on the Ducks.
Penner is an interesting player. He looked like enough of a star player in his first run in Anaheim that he was given a large offer sheet by the Edmonton Oilers and signed as a free agent. His time in Edmonton was up and down. It included a career best 63 points in 2010, but his other seasons were not as impressive. He was traded to Los Angeles where he was largely seen as a failure. He was sometimes a healthy scratch and he never put up more than 17 points in a year in his two plus years in Anaheim. He signed as a free agent and returned to the Ducks. Here he has been back on his game and performing at a better level than he ever has in his career. The question is why Penner seems to do so much better in Anaheim than elsewhere.
The answer comes from looking at Penner's game. He is big and a slow skater who excels when he can get set-up in the slot. He can score well from in front of the net. He has clear limitations in his game. He is too slow to be relied upon in defensive situations. He cannot penalty kill. As long as he can be paired with a forward who will feed him the puck in front of the net he can succeed. In Anaheim in both of his stints he has been paired with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry quite often and these are players who compliment him well. They are both very capable to get the puck to the front of the net where Penner is most useful. Their skills mesh together well. In other cities, especially Los Angeles, he did not have the same talented wingers to play with and he failed.
The only trophy that I routinely make picks for that I have not made any picks this season so far is the Masterton Trophy. This trophy is officially for perseverance, dedication and sportsmanship but it doesn't hold that definition well. Several of the past winners are among the all-time career penalty minutes leaders - that isn't what you would expect from an award that is allegedly in part given for sportsmanship. I think the working definition for this award is to the player who overcomes the biggest hardship to continue his career and make the biggest impact in the season.
As I see it there are two clear candidates this season in Darren Helm of the Detroit Red Wings and Manny Malhotra of the Carolina Hurricanes. Both fought back from potentially career ending injuries to come back this season and are making impacts on their teams. Helm was out essentially for 19 months with a back injury. He was limited to one game last season. He has made a comeback this season and is playing quite well. He has 9 points in 13 games to date this season. Malhotra suffered a serious eye injury in 2011 where he lost a significant amount of sight in his left eye. He came back to play in the Stanley Cup finals but still struggled with his eyesight. After playing only 9 games in 2012/13, he was put on the longterm injured reserve by the Canucks. His contract expired and he signed a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes farm affiliate in Charlotte at the beginning of this season. He quickly played his way back into the NHL and has four points in 13 games. He is re-establishing himself as a solid defensive player.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???