Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma wanted to assure everyone that his team could deal with the absence of Sidney Crosby because they generally have to play some 40 minutes of each game without their captain on the ice.
Fair enough. And of course it might be just a coincidence that the Penguins lost their first game when Crosby was sidelined because of concussion symptoms. The Penguins certainly have lost a few games with Crosby in the lineup too.
|Crosby already has 32 goals and 34 assists on the season. (Getty Images)|
Then again, that should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has watched the 23-year-old wunderkind since he broke into the league following the lockout. Crosby has played at an elite level from day one, and yet he has managed to find a way to get better with each passing season.
But in this one, Crosby has taken his game to another level and he has taken the Penguins along for the ride. Just look at the 25-game point streak he put together over a seven-week period that began in early November, a run that was the NHL's longest in two decades and included 26 goals and a 12-game Penguins winning streak.
It put Crosby on pace for a career year, and the Penguins possibly on track for another Stanley Cup. So as the league schedule gets set to pass its midpoint this weekend, and with all due respect to the outstanding seasons being put together by others like Tampa Bay's dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars, Boston's Tim Thomas and Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien, the choice here for first-half MVP easily goes to Crosby.
Here are our other midseason award choices:
Vezina (Best goalie): Despite his abhorrence of the term, Tim Thomas might be the comeback player of the year too. First and foremost, he has had a remarkable season in goal after an injury-plagued season and hefty contract made him trade bait for the Bruins all summer. Thomas had the best start in Boston history with seven consecutive wins -- three of them by shutout -- and he has kept his goals-against average well under 2.00 all season and his save percentage in the eye-popping .940 range. Not bad for a 36-year-old some people thought was done.
Norris (Best defenseman): At some point in the future, the NHL might be tempted to rename this for Nicklas Lidstrom of the Red Wings. Or maybe create a new award to honor the most dominant defenseman of his generation. Lidstrom has already won the Norris six times, and he has been the runner-up on three other occasions. But he's 40 now, eating up more ice time than any other D-man on the first-place Red Wings, and most important, playing like he's at least a decade younger.
Runners-up: Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh.
Calder (Top rookie): After a slow start for the Oilers, last spring's first overall draft pick Taylor Hall has picked up his game, but not enough to be considered the best of the freshmen. That distinction goes to San Jose's Logan Couture, who was named the top rookie for December and leads all first-year players with 18 goals. In fact he leads all Sharks in goals, which is pretty impressive considering the lineup includes several of the league's top snipers. Couture is playing nearly 18 minutes a night, and is one of the few San Jose forwards with a plus rating to boot.
Selke (Defensive forward): Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk is out for the next few weeks, but he has redefined what it means to be an elite two-way forward in the past couple of seasons. You don't necessarily think of him as a shutdown guy, but he can play with or without the puck, and has developed a remarkable knack for stealing off the sticks of other players. And he's pretty dangerous around the net too.
Adams (Top coach): Guy Boucher was among the most sought-after coaches last summer even though he had never spent a day behind an NHL bench, and the first half showed why. Boucher has implanted a system that has transformed the Tampa Bay Lightning into a serious contender after the team missed the past three playoffs. A lot of that has to do with the firepower he has unleashed in Tampa and in spite of the goaltending issues the team has faced most of the season. With the recent trade for veteran Dwayne Roloson, Boucher has a team that can't be taken lightly.
Runners-up: Marc Crawford, Dallas; Craig Ramsey, Atlanta.
Lady Byng (Sportsmanship): Loui Eriksson doesn't get much recognition around the NHL, but the young Dallas Stars forward has quietly developed into one of the league's top players. He's a top 10 scorer this season in large part because he spends most of his time on the ice, having taken only four minutes in penalties.
Masterton (Perseverance): See the Vezina explanation to understand why Boston's Tim Thomas gets this too.