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First quarter has Flyers' Giroux atop MVP race

by Dan Rosen
The National Hockey League reached the first-quarter mark this week of what has already been a memorable 2011-12 season. To celebrate, the staff is taking a look at the early favorites for each of the major NHL end-of-season trophies with the first installment of our Trophy Tracker feature. Stay tuned for updates as the season progresses. All statistics for this edition of the Trophy Trackers are as of games completed by Nov. 22.

Some of the usual suspects in the Hart Trophy race are just coming back to the game, struggling to find their game, or playing well but not doing anything all that MVP-worthy.
The three newcomers to the race with the 2011-12 season now a quarter of the way to the finish line have been playing all season at the top of their game and giving nightly performances worthy of MVP consideration.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers -- He has been Mr. Everything for the Flyers, which is why Giroux is getting this nod. His overall game has been as impressive as his 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points, which ties him for second in the League behind Phil Kessel. He's been centering Philadelphia's most productive line and his wings, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell, each have 17 points. Giroux is being used by coach Peter Laviolette in all situations, averaging more than 21 minutes of ice time per game, a number that is on the rise during the past month. His presence on the penalty kill is just as important as his production on the power play. Laviolette does not hesitate to use Giroux in the final minutes of tight games. And, oh by the way, a lot of the time he gets the call to play against the opposition's best forward line.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs -- There hasn't been a more productive player in the NHL than Kessel, who leads the League with 16 goals and 30 points. He's been on the ice for 36 of the Maple Leafs' 68 goals for and just 17 of their 69 goals against. Kessel has been economical, too, scoring on more than 20 percent of his 77 shots on goal. He isn't doing it only on the power play either, as just four of his goals and five of his 14 assists have come with the man advantage. About the only thing Kessel isn't doing is killing penalties, but he's still averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game and he's helped linemate Joffrey Lupul move into the League's scoring race as well.
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings – While people may see his minus-1 rating and wonder, Kopitar is playing more minutes than any other forward in the NHL this season so he's bound to be on the ice for some goals against. The fact is that the Kings have scored only 51 goals this season and he's been involved in almost half of them. Kopitar has scored 10 goals and dished out 14 assists to pace an offense that would likely be a black hole without him. He's been on the ice for 28 of the Kings' goals. Los Angeles would also not be among the top teams in the Western Conference without Kopitar's all-around game.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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