PHT’s midseason trophy picks (James O’Brien’s choices)

Most teams are approaching, at or beyond the 41-games played mark, so the PHT gang will make its choices for the NHL’s trophies at this point in the season. Feel free to call us evil/wrong in the comments. We might get into dark horse candidates later on, too.

Hart Trophy – Sidney Crosby

No need to over-think this one, as you’d have to be a true devil’s advocate to argue against the idea that Crosby was the league’s best player at this point. When you consider the enormous gulf between Crosby’s 66 points and the Penguins’ second leading scorer (Evgeni Malkin, with 34), it’s clear that he’s been indispensable to Pittsburgh.

Vezina Trophy – Tim Thomas

Remember when the Boston Bruins were desperately trying to get rid of the aging veteran’s $5 million salary cap hit? That seems like a distant memory, although let’s be honest: Boston’s defense could make Tuukka Rask look like an all-star again.

Even if you discount Thomas a bit for playing in Claude Julien’s defensively stout system, his 94.5 save percentage puts him far ahead of second place goalie Ondrej Pavelec’s 93.2 mark. He’s also the only regular starter with a sub-2.00 GAA and owns 18 wins, making him the obvious Vezina Trophy choice at the midway point.

Norris – Dustin Byfuglien

OK, I imagine I might get raked over the coals a bit for this one, but let me explain. I wanted to pick Nicklas Lidstrom because he’s almost certainly a better shutdown guy than big Byfuglien, but there was one number that jumped out from the Atlanta Thrashers blueliner’s stats:

6 game winning goals.

That’s the highest number of GWGs for any defenseman in the NHL, with Alex Goligoski surprisingly being the No. 2 guy with four. In fact, Byfuglien is tied with Steven Stamkos for the most game-winners in the entire NHL. Even if you discount everything else Byfuglien achieved in Atlanta, he earned them 12 standings points from those timely goals alone. Wow.

He also has a better plus/minus that Lidstrom (+8 to Lidstrom’s +3), although I admittedly don’t put much stock in that. It’s true that Lidstrom’s game is about positioning rather than hitting, but Byfuglien leads the all-time great in hits by a wide margin too (72 to 24).

Jack AdamsGuy Boucher

There have been some great coaching performances through the first half of the 2010-11 season, but Boucher stands out because of his team’s higher level of success. Tampa Bay currently leads the Southeast Division (thus earning the East’s second spot) despite the fact that they share a division with the Capitals and Thrashers.

Despite talents such as Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, Boucher needed to roll with some punches to being this season. The team played in 24 road games versus only 17 home games so far and dealt with injuries to key players such as Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne.

Even with some occasionally atrocious goaltending, Boucher’s bunch looks primed for a return to the playoffs. That’s coach of the year material in my mind.

Calder – Logan Couture

My guess is that Taylor Hall will give him a run for his money while Sergei Bobrovsky and rookie points leader Jeff Skinner have a chance too, but if I had a vote, it would go to Couture so far.

  • He’s second in points with 27 and first in goals (18) and game winning goals (5).
  • He slightly trails Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for the time on ice lead among forwards, but considering the fact that he’s fighting for minutes on a playoff caliber roster instead of bottom feeder, I think that means more.
  • Despite being a rookie, Couture is already a good at draws, with a well above average 52.8 winning percent (second among rookies behind Pittsburgh’s Mark Letestu.)
  • Again, I’m not too fond of plus/minus, but he’s second in the NHL among rookie forwards with a +8 (Chicago’s Jake Dowell is the top forward with a +10).

In other words, Couture is the most complete rookie so far this season.

Selke – Manny Malhotra

Let me be honest here: it’s tough to figure out which players are the best two-way forwards. It’s easy to just name Pavel Datsyuk and call it a day, but I settled on Manny Malhotra and Sammy Pahlsson but chose the Vancouver center for these reasons:

  • He’s an elite face-off winner: Malhotra is second in the league in shorthanded FO wins (87), trailing only Pahlsson.
  • He gets a good amount of ice time: he receives about 25.6 shifts per game and 2:45 shorthanded time on ice per game.
  • Vancouver is an elite PK unit: their 85.7 percent kill rate is good for third in the NHL. Pahlsson and the Blue Jackets rank 24th with a 79.3 success rate.

Sure, playing on a great team helps and having Roberto Luongo stopping pucks doesn’t hurt either, but Malhotra is my choice right now.

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Surely the next 41 (or so) games will affect these choices, but if the season ended today, those would be my winners. Who would you hand NHL awards to? Let us know in the comments.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.

Penguins’ Hornqvist hurt after blocking shot vs. Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have had to shuffle their forward combinations in the second period, after Patric Hornqvist was hurt blocking a shot in the first period of Game 2 versus the Capitals.

The Penguins forward was in obvious pain after taking a shot right around the ankle, which is a concerning development for Pittsburgh.

Per reports, he didn’t re-join the Penguins at the bench when the second period began.

Hornqvist can be a frustrating player to go up against, and he’s productive, too, with two goals and five points in six playoff games prior to Saturday.