While the common perception would be that the job of an NHL forward is to put the puck in the opponent's net, it's also important the guys up front be defensively sound as well. While it might not lead to as many endorsement deals or big-money contracts as scoring 40-plus goals a season, a solid two-way forward is worth his weight in gold as far as his coach is concerned.
The Frank J. Selke Trophy is awarded annually "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game." Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings has laid claim to it each of the last three seasons, and he's once again looking like a solid candidate. However, he has his challengers who also understood that keeping the red light behind their own goaltender off can be just as important as turning on the one at the other end.
Let's check out NHL.com's rundown of the Selke Trophy field at the halfway point:
Manny Malhotra, C, Vancouver Canucks -- Not much has changed for since the quarter point of the season. Malhotra is still the best pure defensive center in the game right now, constantly facing the offensive stars of the opposition. If the Canucks face the Sharks, he draws Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley. If the Canucks face the Flames, he's on Jarome Iginla duty most of the night. Malhotra is ninth in the League among forwards in blocked shots with 39 and second in faceoff percentage at 63.6. His plus-2 isn't going to blow anyone away, but it's very impressive considering the level of competition he faces every night. Malhotra's presence has also freed up Ryan Kesler, a terrific checker in his own right, to focus more on his offense. So far it's paid off, as Kesler is on pace for his first 40-goal season.
Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings -- Despite an ever-so-slightly diminished role as a checker this season, he's still done enough at the halfway point to warrant consideration. He's tied for second in the League in takeaways with 47 and ranks 14th in faceoff percentage at 56.2 The 32-year-old Datsyuk defers to youngsters Justin Abdelkader and Drew Miller on the penalty kill, but the three-time Selke winner is still good enough to remain in contention for this season's award.
Tomas Plekanec, C, Montreal Canadiens -- He wasn't among the top three six weeks ago, but he's done enough to join the list. He's the top penalty-killing forward on the top penalty-killing team. Plekanec doesn't draw the tough even-strength assignments as often as Malhotra and Giroux. Still, Plekanec can't slack defensively.