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Crosby's sizzling scoring pace makes him Hart leader

by Dave Lozo

Sidney Crosby -- and it's not even close right now -- is the Hart Trophy leader for the first half of the NHL season.

There's a tendency to look beyond the obvious answer to a question sometimes in an effort to be edgy, or different, or drum up debate among fans. But when it comes to deciding which player has been the most valuable to his team up until this moment, it's unquestionably been the Pittsburgh Penguins star.

Let's start with the obvious: His statistics haven't been seen in the NHL in 20 years.

Through 26 games, he has 12 goals and 33 assists. That has him on pace for 83 points in this shortened season. That number would've been good enough last season for a tie for fifth with New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who had 83 points in 80 games.

Crosby would be on pace for 142 points in an 82-game season, a number that hasn't been reached since Mario Lemieux won the Art Ross Trophy with 161 points in 70 games in 1995-96. The Penguins owner surpassed the totals put up by teammate Jaromir Jagr, who had 149 points that season.

The Hart Trophy shouldn't be awarded each season to the player who finishes with the most points, as tends to be the case. Crosby's jaw-dropping totals, however, are a big reason the Penguins are on top of the Atlantic Division instead of fighting for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

The Penguins have had their share of defensive and goaltending struggles and are allowing 2.92 goals per game, which ranks them 21st in that category. Of the nine teams trailing the Penguins, one -- the St. Louis Blues -- is sitting in the top eight in their conference through Monday's games.

Sometimes Crosby benefits from having Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on a different line, because there are times when the opposition will throw its best checking line and top defense pairing against them instead. It's a small sample size, sure, but in the five games Malkin has missed with an injury this season, Crosby has three goals and 11 assists.

It doesn't matter the quality of competition Crosby faces or how many goals his team allows; he's been the game's best player in the first half and has meant the most to his team's success.


Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks -- There are quite a few players responsible for Chicago's historic start to the season, but none have had a stronger first half than Kane. His 14 goals and 16 assists lead the team and his 30 points are tied for sixth in the NHL. The Blackhawks have won three shootouts, and Kane has the decisive goal in two of them. He's stronger than ever in his own zone and tougher to knock off the puck.

Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes -- The captain appears to be enjoying the services of Alexander Semin on his wing. Through 24 games, Staal has 30 points and 12 goals, four of which have been game-winners. Much like the Penguins, the Hurricanes have been shaky defensively, and Staal has been a consistent offensive force that has the Hurricanes on top of the Southeast Division.


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