To mark the midpoint of the 2016-17 season, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Hart Trophy.
A 56-goal, 97-point pace has enabled Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby to jump out as the frontrunner at the midpoint of the NHL season to win the Hart Trophy for the third time, according to a vote of 12 NHL.com staff members.
Crosby, who has a League-leading 26 goals to go along with 45 points in 35 games, received six first-place votes and was one of two players, with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid being the other, to appear on all 12 ballots.
McDavid, who leads the League with 50 points, in nine more games played than Crosby, finished second and received three first-place votes. Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was third and received the other three first-place votes.
Despite missing the first six games of the season with a concussion, Crosby is on pace to surpass his NHL career-high of 51 goals, scored in the 2009-10 season.
"I don't know if I can pinpoint why he's scoring at the rate he's scoring," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "The only thing I'll tell you is I think Sid's playing the game the right way right now. He's taking what the game gives him."
Video: CAR@PIT: Crosby buries one-timer off the post in 2nd
A glance across Crosby's statistical line revealed another number that stood out: 21.7.
That is Crosby's shooting percentage, fourth-highest in the League among forwards who played at least 20 games and highest among any player with more than 100 shots on goal (26 goals on 120 shots).
For a reference point, Crosby was shooting 14.4 percent for his NHL career coming into the season. His high is 19.9 percent, but that was in a half season (41 games in 2011-12 before sustaining his first concussion).
Why is the shooting percentage so high?
"I would say the deflection stuff," Crosby said. "I don't usually get that many deflections."
Nine of Crosby's 26 goals have come on a deflection, and all but three have come when he's been inside the hash marks or inside the circles. He has scored on wrist shots, snap shots, bank shots off the goalie, one-timers, and off rebounds from directly in front of the net.
Video: Trophy Tracker: Hart picks at the halfway point
When you consider where he is standing when he scores, it's easy to figure out why his shooting percentage is so high and why it has a chance to remain in that neighborhood as long as he doesn't drift toward the perimeter, which is not part of his game anyway.
"It doesn't surprise me that he's filling the net the way he's doing it," Sullivan said. "He's a great player. He has the ability to generate offense so many different ways. He's got a speed game. He's got a power game. He's got a finesse game. He's as good a player as there is around the net as far as picking up loose pucks and pulling it out of traffic in order to score goals.
"And he's brave. He plays with a lot of courage. He goes to the battle areas. He has such a versatile game offensively. That's what allows him to get in the areas that he gets into, and he's obviously getting high-quality chances that have high conversion rates. He's playing inspiring hockey for us."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, 49; Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, 43; Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets, 29; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens, 17; Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild, 12; Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, 8; Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues, 7; Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, 5; Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets, 4; Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings, 2; Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2; Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets, 2.