By Eddie Melville
As the battle for the playoffs intensifies, many prominent players are chasing important offensive milestones. Unlike some of the past few NHL seasons, impressive statistical levels are being reached at a higher rate. Whether it be established superstars, the new era young guns, or late-bloomers, it has been a fun to be a hockey fan that loves great offense. Due to the plethora of content on the topic, I will be discussing it over the course of two parts. In Part 1, we take a closer look at the goal, assists, and points races; in Part 2, I’ll breakdown which players have or could have significant offensive milestones. With that said, let’s bust the 1-2-2 trap and carry the puck past the blue line already!
Battle for the Rocket Trophy
Washington forward Alex Ovechkin (45 goals with 5 games in-hand) is aiming for his 8th season with 50 or more goals and for his 7th Maurice Richard Trophy. Both feats would be remarkable as Ovi far and away holds all the goal-scoring records for his respective era. It’s crazy to think he really isn’t slowing down at age 32. While one can always argue that the man doesn’t pass enough, any hockey expert or casual fan knows deep down that the Great 8 is one of the best pure scorers of all-time. No one has a scarier wrist shot through traffic; goalies pretty much put their gloves out and pray when Ovechkin winds up for a one-time slapper on the power play. This year, he has seemed more willing to go to the front of the net and score a few more dirty goals than we’re accustomed to seeing. Unless he gets snake bitten these final 5 games, Ovi will usher in Ground Hog Day in April and add yet another Rocket to his trophy case. He can only hope that he can remove the cobwebs from the empty part of his shelf left yearning for Lord Stanley’s brandy.
While Ovechkin likely will hold-on, Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin (42 goals) has pushed his fellow Russian this year, putting up 40+ goals for the first time since potting 50 in 2011-12. Young buck Patrik Laine (age 19) of Winnipeg has built on his impressive rookie campaign with 43 goals and has 5 games left to make a final run. Finally, if there is one man who could swoop in and steal the Rocket from Ovi, it could be arguably the best player in the league, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. The 3rd year legend (if there is such a thing) has enjoyed his first 40-goal season and has goals in his past 5 games including two multi-goal efforts. More on him to come….
I need some helpers for my friends
Philadelphia forward Claude Giroux and Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler are currently tied for the assists title with 66 assists apiece. Giroux has 8 assists in his last 5 games and will need to keep feeding his stud center Sean Couturier (31 goals) as the Flyers fight for their playoff lives. This marks Claude’s career-high in assist (previous was 65 in 2011-12) and would be his first assist title. The Jets’Wheeler, while probably not as well known by the average hockey fan, has had better numbers in recent years than Giroux, but still has surprised many by putting himself in this current position. This too would be Blake’s first assist title and far surpasses his previous career high of 52 helpers.
Much like the goals race, one man that cannot be counted out is McDavid. With 62 assists and scorching hot, he could easily get at least 2 assists per game the final couple contests and find himself as a back-to-back assist leader. Giroux and Wheeler better keep setting up their teammates because neither will be remembered much by the historians if #97 dusts them.
No arguing for Stanley’s or Scoring Titles
Mario Lemieux, one of only two players that has a legitimate argument with Wayne Gretzky for the GOAT (Bobby Orr is the other one), once famously said that the two trophies he cared about most were the Stanley Cup and the Art Ross because neither is voted on or up for debate. While a Cup is far out of reach at this point, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid has all but sealed back to back Art Ross trophies with a late season tear to surpass long-leading Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. McDavid swooping in from the back stretch with 32 points in 17 games to take a commanding lead on Kucherov (102 to 97) brings memories of the great ground Le Magnifique made up in 92-93 to steal the Art Ross and Hart Trophies from Pat Lafontsine. Different eras, yet the “I’m far and away better than everyone else” impression that McDavid leaves one with is eerily similar to number 66. Back-to-back scoring titles would make number 97 the first player to do so since Jaromir Jagr won four in a row (97-98, 98-99, 99-00, 00-01). Connor is also the first player with back-to-back 100-point seasons since Sidney Crosby (103, 109) and Alex Ovechkin (110, 109) both pulled the feat during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Simply put, it’s scary how good McDavid is already. One can only hope he avoids the injuries that plagued Lemieux and robbed the guy he is most often compared to (Sidney Crosby) of the peak of his prime.
While he isn’t likely going to take home the Art Ross unless Connor goes ice cold, Kucherov is just 3 points away from his first career 100-point season which would put him smack dab in the middle of the conversation for best current Russian player next to elders Ovechkin and Malkin. What is less debatable for a Kucherov is his status as Tampa Bay’s best player. As great as Stamkos is, Kucherov’s consistent success and year to year improvement put him in the 1 spot for the Lightning and make them one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
In Part 2, Eddie will discuss other impressive NHL offensive numbers that have been compiled in 2017-18, point out other milestones that could still be reached this final week, and put forth the statistical case of how this is the best season for great offensive players in several years.