Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
I'm not one of those people who thinks that professional athletes can't be MVP candidates unless their team makes the playoffs. That takes a rather dim and nuanceless view of what constitutes "value," because imagine how bad, say, Calgary would be if Miikka Kiprusoff were plying his trade elsewhere.
That said, I honestly no longer see how anyone at all can support Steven Stamkos, he of the loftiest goal total in the league and pretty much the only reason the Bolts aren't a lottery team, over Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins.
Even as Stamkos has continually filled opponents' goals with pucks — he was the league's first to 50 when no one else had more than 40 — Malkin carried one of the best teams in the league, one dealing with injuries to the world's best player and its own best defenseman to a 11-game win streak that was snapped on Sunday, and even then, his team still got a point.
I will say that the "you gotta make the playoffs to be an MVP" crowd has one thing right: It's probably not easy being as mind-bendingly good as Malkin has been in the thick of a playoff hunt in the most difficult division in the league.
Three teams in the Atlantic have 92-plus points. The same number as in the rest of the league combined. And under that weight, Malkin has been simply dazzling, picking apart all comers to the tune of a league-best 88 points in just 64 games. That's seven less than Stamkos, and he has eight more points and just nine fewer goals, which is no small feat.
This weekend, against the Devils and Flyers, Malkin had three points, which you might consider unspectacular. But consider this: Prior to the Penguins ambling into town for those contests, those Devils had conceded a total of eight goals in their previous eight games, and the Flyers had allowed 11 in eight.
In short, these are staunch defenses that Malkin and the Penguins picked apart for seven total goals and took three points in the standings, closing the gap on a Rangers squad whose eight-point division lead seemed insurmountable just two weeks ago.
Now it has been reduced to just one, and lies at Malkin's feet.
(Coming Up: Ominous injury for the Blues; Patrick Kane is in Beast Mode; Bryzgalov's huMANGous turnaround; Craig Anderson coming back; why the Panthers are in the Southeast driver's seat; the Red Wings are hurt; Bruins need a wake-up call; we weep for Svensanity; Cory Sarich blows up Taylor Hall; Zajac on the mend; in praise of BizNasty; Dion vs. goal cam; Varlamov rules; and a Rick Nash trade to ... Anaheim?)
But that shouldn't be a surprise. Malkin has positively gutted the best teams in the league on a consistent basis. Six goals and an assist in six games against the stingy Rangers. Four points in three games against the Bruins, four in four against the Devils. Those are the best defensive teams in the East, each with a legendary netminder and reputation for staunch own-zone play, and Malkin lights them up.
Of course, that's not to say Malkin hasn't been piling up points for fun against every other team since about the start of December. In 46 games since then, he has 32 goals and 81 points. It's honestly staggering, and not especially fair. The Penguins have won 30 of those games as a result.
I don't believe in things like "clutch" and "intangibles" having much of an impact in sports, so Stamkos' 10 game-winners to Malkin's eight is a non-factor. I also don't believe that the Hart should always go to the guy who performs most "consistently" throughout the year — i.e. simply has more points in 82 games than everyone else in the league. But sometimes, that's exactly what's appropriate. Anyone who looks at Malkin's stats this year versus what anyone else has done and says, "I'm not sure this is good enough to merit an MVP award," is being purposefully obtuse or has become enamored of gaudy goal totals and not much else.
And yet, despite all this, we've heard a lot of talk about candidates even beyond those two. Henrik Lundqvist makes a good amount of sense, but if Tim Thomas couldn't win it last year, Lundqvist shouldn't this year. We've also heard from people who want to see the award go to Claude Giroux, which is based on a diminished version of more or less the same argument Malkin-backers espouse, or even Jarome Iginla, which is just weird.
This is probably, and rightly, going to be framed as a two-horse race until the awards are announced after the playoffs, but it should be a two-horse race in the way that Seabiscuit/War Admiral was a two-horse race. In the end, the better competitor ran away with that one.
They don't let people vote on who should have won a horse race for a reason.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks hosted a fashion show the other day. No word on whether everybody in the audience with the exception of Toni Lydman's wife was running for the exits.
Boston Bruins: After Friday night, the Bruins slipped out of the top spot in the Northeast for the first time since Nov. 30, and the team considered that a "wake-up call" that they needed to start winning again. They regained it again with a shootout win over Philadelphia on Saturday, but even still, they blew a 2-0 lead to get there.
Buffalo Sabres: This weekend was the Sabres' annual family trip, and many players brought their moms this year after bringing their dads in the past. "It's kind of relaxing having your mom here where you can just sit and relax with her, beat her up in 500 Rummy," Patrick Kaleta said. Guaranteed Kaleta plays dirty in that as well.
Calgary Flames: The Calgary media tied a yellow ribbon around a tree for Sven Baertschi, who was shipped back to the WHL yesterday when Lee Stempniak returned from injury.
Carolina Hurricanes: AP headline for Carolina's easy 5-3 win over the Wild: "Brent, Sutter lead Hurricanes past Minnesota." Wait I thought that guy coaches the Flames...
Chicago Blackhawks: The reason the Blackhawks have continued winning even after Jonathan Toews went down with a concu… lower body injury is that Patrick Kane has picked it up big-time. Heading into last night's home date with Washington, the Blackhawks were 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, and Kane has nine points in nine games, including five in the last four.
Colorado Avalanche: Granted the Rangers aren't playing especially good hockey these days but did you ever think you'd see the Avs drill them 3-1 at MSG? Did you ever think you'd see Matt Hunwick score a goal like this on Henrik Lundqvist?