Thursday’s Hockey Dose focused on Matt Duchene’s astounding start, yet he’s not even the top goal-scorer in the five weeks-or-so of the 2013-14 season. Conveniently enough, the three guys in front of him added to their goal totals last evening, opening the door for a discussion regarding what could be an absolutely captivating run for the 2014 Maurice Richard Trophy.
To briskly catch you up to speed, Alexander Steen fattened his league-leading total to 14 goals as the Blues beat up on the Flames. Alex Ovechkin continues to be ridiculous on the power play, as seven of his 13 goals - including last night’s tally - have come on the man advantage. Finally, Steve Stamkos made it that much clearer that he’s in it to win it by nabbing his 12th and 13th goals of this campaign.
All three players’ teams won their games, by the way.
Let’s take a look at this race by examining the arguments for and against each player’s chances of sniping his way to the next goal-scoring crown.
(Assuming it’s not a three-way tie like it was in 2003-04, when Jarome Iginla, Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick Nash scored 41 goals each.)
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It should probably go without saying that Steen is the dark horse here, even if he has a slight edge in the race so far. To give you an idea of how much he's seemingly playing over his head, chew on this:
-- His 14 goals eclipsed the eight he scored in 40 games last season and could soon match the 15 he scored in 43 games during the 2011-12 (not to mention the 15 he scored in 2006-07 and 2007-08).
-- He easily has the fewest career goals of the three, with 137 in 551 games. That works out to just one every four contests or so.
-- His 28.6 shooting percentage is unsustainable. His career mark is 9.8 percent and he's never shot at a level above 12.7.
-- Again, he’s going against the two “brand names” in finding the net. Ovechkin already has three Richard Trophies to his name - including 2013’s award - while Stamkos has two.
Even with all that negativity in consideration, Steen has the most to gain. Steen is in a contract year with just a $3.36 million cap hit. That's less than Blues forwards David Backes ($4.5M), T.J. Oshie ($4.18M), Chris Stewart ($4.15M) and Derek Roy ($4M). Sure, almost winning it could push him in the $5M range, but ask Sergei Bobrovsky how much of a difference a shiny piece of hardware can do while negotiating.
Just think if he only needed to sustain something like this pace over a 48-game season, instead of the standard 82 …
While Steen follows the typical forward pattern of having more career assists than goals (not this season, but still), Stamkos and Ovechkin distinguish themselves by being high-scorers who collect more tallies than helpers.
That difference is especially pronounced with Stamkos. He has 221 goals vs. 187 assists for 408 points in 388 career games. Ovechkin is basically balanced by comparison, with 384 goals and 370 assists (754 points in 615 goals).
Motivation is kind of a moot point between Ovechkin and Stamkos. The two are simply goal-scoring machines. If anything, Stamkos is probably angling for his first Hart Trophy more than anything else.
The trump card for Stamkos might just be durability. One of the knocks on Steen is that he’s either been too inconsistent or too unhealthy to get the job done. Ovi has been remarkably durable himself considering how much he throws his body around, although he’s missed two games this season.
I fear that I might be jinxing Stamkos merely by mentioning this, but he's been a regular ever since he got out of Barry Melrose's doghouse (yes, you weren't hallucinating, he did get a cup of coffee as a head coach again in 2008-09). He played all 82 games from 2009-10 through 2011-12 and all 48 last season. Also, he's been in all 15 games.
Ovechkin already spotted the league a couple nights’ work to help everyone out. What if he misses another handful?
THE GREAT 8
Let’s not kid ourselves. Stamkos has a great chance himself - again, he’s only down one Maurice to Ovechkin - but Ovi makes the most sense as a frontrunner.
Beyond the sheer history of it all, Ovechkin's pace is the most sustainable. Ovechkin probably won't keep firing SOG at this rate, but still; he has 84 in 14 games (exactly six per contest). His 15.5 shooting percentage isn't wildly out of line with his 12.3 career average (he notched a 14.5 mark in 2013).
I've already discussed Steen's puck luck, yet the bounces are going Stamkos' way, too. The Lightning forward's connected on 24.1 percent of his shots. While he's more likely to approach that pace long-term that just about anyone who fires a high volume of shots on net - his career average is an impressive 17.5 and he's hit 19.8 (2011-12) and 18.5 (2012-13) before - that pace could slow down.
Ovechkin’s the guy who seems least likely to hit a deep slump. Ovechkin’s firing a lot of shots on net - even for him - and seems abundantly confident.
So, not a shocker, but the favorites remain Ovechkin and Stamkos (in that order) with Steen being the longshot. Naturally, there are other potential candidates - Duchene’s 10 goals came in 14 games - but it’s not totally outrageous to say that Ovechkin or Stamkos would be a decent bet against “the field.”
At least as much as any two active players can be.
After the jump: struggling teams and injury bits.