This season's Hart race could be one for the ages
The 2011-12 season reaches its mid-point upon the completion of Monday night's game between the Washington Capitals and the Los Angeles Kings. But, NHL.com is going to take all week to look at the significant stories as the League makes the turn and heads toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We'll look at the races for the League's individual awards, while profiling some of the most surprising players and teams as we look ahead to the final three months of the season.
The halfway point of the season is here and there are plenty of potential candidates for the Hart Trophy as the League's MVP for the 2011-12 season. But, of course, only one winner and two runner-ups are allowed, so some difficult choices had to be made.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia -- He was NHL.com's leading candidate for the Hart Trophy at the quarter-mark of the season and the Flyers' Mr. Everything has done nothing to lose his status. Giroux has been the League's most complete player this season. He entered the week with 48 points, one fewer than League leader Henrik Sedin. But, he has played in only 36 games while Sedin was set to play in his 43rd game on Monday night. Giroux has scored 18 goals and dished out 30 assists. He's averaging 1.33 points per game and is on pace for 98 points this season.
Giroux centers the most productive line on one of the League's most productive teams, and is a major reason why Jaromir Jagr (31 points) had a strong first half in his first NHL season since 2007-08. Scott Hartnell also has 37 points -- largely because he plays with Giroux, who missed four games with a concussion but hasn't missed a beat all season. He is also eighth among forwards in ice time per game (21:29) and he plays in all situations for coach Peter Laviolette.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago -- He has 22 goals and 19 assists for 41 points through 42 games. But, it's usually not about points or flash with Toews, even though he is a point-per-game guy and he plays on one of the League's flashiest teams. He does so much more for the Blackhawks than just score. For instance, he is winning better than 61 percent of his faceoffs this season. He is averaging more than 21 minutes per game, and has played more than 23 minutes in five of the past six games. Oh, and then there are those points. Toews has at least one in 25 games this season, including 11 games with at least two. He had a five-point game at Anaheim on Nov. 25. The Blackhawks entered Monday with 53 points, two fewer than the Western Conference-leading Canucks.
Phil Kessel, Toronto -- Kessel went through a six-game drought without a goal at the beginning of the second quarter, but he has otherwise been as consistent as anybody. He has 48 points on 24 goals and 24 assists through 41 games. His 48 points were tied with Giroux for second in the League entering play on Monday. Kessel is currently on a four-game goal-scoring streak and he has scored in 20 of his 41 games this season. Only five of his 24 goals have come with a man-advantage. He has scored the first goal for Toronto four times and the winning goal four times. He's been on the ice for 64 of the Leafs' goals-for and only 38 of their goals-against. Kessel, who also averages close to 20 minutes per game, has been a major reason why the Leafs have been good at home (11-5-4). He has 17 goals and 28 points in 20 home games.