Crawford's play a first-half revelation
Tuesday, 02.01.2011 / 8:42 AM / Features
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com senior writer
We've got a goalie who wasn't supposed to be the No. 1, but has clearly established himself as just that for the reigning Stanley Cup champions. We've got a defenseman who hadn't played the position on a full-time basis until this season. We've got another blueliner who is finally getting his moment and has turned himself into a Norris Trophy candidate.
And we've got three forwards that have each had success this season unlike they've ever had before in their NHL careers.
This is your NHL.com All-Surprise Team for the first-half (plus) of the 2010-11 season:
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
28 games played, 16 wins, 2.19 GAA, .919 save percentage
Marty Turco signed a one-year deal during the offseason and was immediately tossed at the top of the Blackhawks' goaltender depth chart, passing by Crawford without even a whisper from anyone. Someone forgot to tell Crawford he was supposed to be a backup this season because he hasn't played like one and coach Joel Quenneville isn't using him like one.
Crawford, who spent the past four seasons in the AHL, has solidified the Hawks' goaltending with his brilliant play. He's fifth in the League in goals-against average.
"Now we've got great goaltending," All-Star right wing Patrick Kane told NHL.com. "Our goaltending has been a strong point for us, definitely."
Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers
52 games played, 16 goals, 25 assists, 41 points
Thrashers GM Rick Dudley acquired Byfuglien from Chicago with the intention of playing him on the blue line. Byfuglien, of course, gave the Blackhawks their immovable netfront presence in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, so moving him back to defense, albeit his natural position, seemed like a strange move considering the overwhelming success the big guy had up front.
Byfuglien has given Dudley reason to brag because he's been one of the best defensemen in the NHL for most of the season.
Until a recent scoring slump Byfuglien was leading all blueliners in points and was at the center of the early season Norris Trophy talk. He hasn't scored in 10 games and is a minus-5 over the span, but one slump doesn't erase what Byfuglien has been able to accomplish this season.
"He's a better defenseman than forward," Dudley told NHL.com. "(Chicago) moved him to forward and, to be honest with you, put him in a spot -- partly because they had a good defense anyway -- because he did pretty well with it and they were satisfied with that. I never was. I thought he was much more than that."
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
50 games played, 7 goals, 34 assists, 41 points
Letang had shown flashes in the past, but with Sergei Gonchar manning the point on the Penguins' power play and eating up a lot of ice time, he never got his chance to blossom fully. Well, Gonchar is in Ottawa now and Letang is heading to All-Star Weekend as one of the leading candidates for the Norris Trophy this season.
His patience and work ethic have paid off this season. Letang has been consistently excellent as the Penguins' No. 1 blueliner.
He leads the Penguins with 34 assists (Sidney Crosby has 34 in nine fewer games) and is second on the team in points with 41, which puts him tied for third among defensemen in the NHL.
"He's the guy I tell my kid to watch all the time," Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey told Yahoo.com.
Clark MacArthur, Toronto Maple Leafs
49 games played, 15 goals, 25 assists, 40 points
Atlanta didn't believe MacArthur was worth the $2.4 million he was awarded via salary arbitration, so they chose not to sign him. Toronto happily took him at less than half the price and is getting more than it bargained for out of the fifth-year forward.
MacArthur has already set a career-high for points with 40 in 49 games. That's 5 more points than he produced in 81 games last season between Buffalo and Atlanta. He has 15 goals, just two shy of his career best 17, and his 25 assists are already a career-high.
The Leafs haven't been in playoff contention since starting the season 4-0, but MacArthur appears to have found a good home in Toronto. He's been playing mostly on the left wing beside Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, and the tough-as-nails Canadian has fit in well with the two skillful Russians.
"I'm playing with good players -- that's what it comes down to," MacArthur told the Toronto Sun. "I'm playing the offensive role I should be playing."
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
50 games played, 27 goals, 20 assists, 47 points
It isn't a surprise that Kesler is playing well; he's been a Selke Trophy finalist twice and a key contributor to the Canucks for several seasons in a row. He broke out last season with 75 points, on 25 goals and 50 assists.
However, what is surprising is the rate at which Kesler is scoring goals this season. He already has a career-high 27 in only 50 games. Toss in his 20 assists and Kesler is on pace for a career-best 44 goals and 76 points.
Kesler, known for his defensive prowess, is scoring at a better-than-40-goal pace because he's being put in the position to do so. He's playing a key role on the power play alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and with the addition of Manny Malhotra he doesn't have to play in a shutdown role against the opposition's best players.
Can he? Absolutely. But the fact that he doesn't is freeing Kesler up to score more goals.
"I'm getting a couple more greasy ones," Kesler told NHL.com. "I'm shooting a lot more. I think that's the biggest thing. I'm going to those dirty areas to score and getting the greasy ones and getting some deflections and also using my shot."
Brandon Dubinsky, New York Rangers
47 games played, 17 goals, 21 assists, 38 points
Until suffering a stress fracture in his left leg last week, an injury that will keep him out until the middle of February, Dubinsky was easily the Rangers' most consistent forward. That's saying something when one of your teammates is the super-skilled Marian Gaborik.
Dubinsky, with 17 goals and 38 points, was and will again be the Rangers' glue guy; the forward that because he can do so many things (power play, penalty kill, etc.) coach John Tortorella leans on in so many situations. When he went out, Tortorella admitted the Rangers would have no choice but to change some of what they were doing.
Tortorella called the loss of Dubinsky "a big hole" to fill because the forward is "a huge piece here."
Dubinsky, even in injury, has earned that kind of praise. He signed a two-year contract roughly halfway through training camp last season and with it came some expectations to provide more offense. He scored 20 goals and had 44 points last season, but it wasn't enough for a team that at times can be goal-deprived.
He was filling the nets this season until going down with the injury. He'll start up again as soon as he returns.
"He's a huge penalty killer for us. He's one of leading scorers. He adds jam on our forecheck," Tortorella said. "He has done everything and he deserves credit for how he's played this year."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer