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.

Leafs chase Rask, but Bruins make things interesting

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they turned in a relatively solid performance in the first two periods of the game.

Connor Brown opened the scoring at the 6:36 mark of the first period before Andreas Johnsson, who was a healthy scratch in the first game of the series, made it 2-0 for the Leafs. Nazem Kadri made an immediate impact in his first game back from a suspension, as he fed Johnsson with a great feed.

David Backes got a goal back for the Bruins, but Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk extended Toronto’s lead to 4-2 in the middle frame. That’s when Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy decided to give Tuukka Rask the hook.

After failing to convert on a long 5-on-3 power play, Sean Kuraly scored to make it 4-2 with under three minutes remaining in the second period.

This should be an interesting final 20 minutes at TD Garden. The Maple Leafs need this victory to stay alive in the series.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck