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What We Learned: Why Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin should be the consensus Hart winner

By Ryan Lambert

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

I'm not one of those people who thinks that professional athletes can't be MVP candidates unless their team makes the playoffs. That takes a rather dim and nuanceless view of what constitutes "value," because imagine how bad, say, Calgary would be if Miikka Kiprusoff were plying his trade elsewhere.

That said, I honestly no longer see how anyone at all can support Steven Stamkos, he of the loftiest goal total in the league and pretty much the only reason the Bolts aren't a lottery team, over Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins.

Even as Stamkos has continually filled opponents' goals with pucks — he was the league's first to 50 when no one else had more than 40 — Malkin carried one of the best teams in the league, one dealing with injuries to the world's best player and its own best defenseman to a 11-game win streak that was snapped on Sunday, and even then, his team still got a point.

I will say that the "you gotta make the playoffs to be an MVP" crowd has one thing right: It's probably not easy being as mind-bendingly good as Malkin has been in the thick of a playoff hunt in the most difficult division in the league.

Three teams in the Atlantic have 92-plus points. The same number as in the rest of the league combined. And under that weight, Malkin has been simply dazzling, picking apart all comers to the tune of a league-best 88 points in just 64 games. That's seven less than Stamkos, and he has eight more points and just nine fewer goals, which is no small feat.

This weekend, against the Devils and Flyers, Malkin had three points, which you might consider unspectacular. But consider this: Prior to the Penguins ambling into town for those contests, those Devils had conceded a total of eight goals in their previous eight games, and the Flyers had allowed 11 in eight.

In short, these are staunch defenses that Malkin and the Penguins picked apart for seven total goals and took three points in the standings, closing the gap on a Rangers squad whose eight-point division lead seemed insurmountable just two weeks ago.

Now it has been reduced to just one, and lies at Malkin's feet.

(Coming Up: Ominous injury for the Blues; Patrick Kane is in Beast Mode; Bryzgalov's huMANGous turnaround; Craig Anderson coming back; why the Panthers are in the Southeast driver's seat; the Red Wings are hurt; Bruins need a wake-up call; we weep for Svensanity; Cory Sarich blows up Taylor Hall; Zajac on the mend; in praise of BizNasty; Dion vs. goal cam; Varlamov rules; and a Rick Nash trade to ... Anaheim?)

But that shouldn't be a surprise. Malkin has positively gutted the best teams in the league on a consistent basis. Six goals and an assist in six games against the stingy Rangers. Four points in three games against the Bruins, four in four against the Devils. Those are the best defensive teams in the East, each with a legendary netminder and reputation for staunch own-zone play, and Malkin lights them up.

Of course, that's not to say Malkin hasn't been piling up points for fun against every other team since about the start of December. In 46 games since then, he has 32 goals and 81 points. It's honestly staggering, and not especially fair. The Penguins have won 30 of those games as a result.

I don't believe in things like "clutch" and "intangibles" having much of an impact in sports, so Stamkos' 10 game-winners to Malkin's eight is a non-factor. I also don't believe that the Hart should always go to the guy who performs most "consistently" throughout the year — i.e. simply has more points in 82 games than everyone else in the league. But sometimes, that's exactly what's appropriate. Anyone who looks at Malkin's stats this year versus what anyone else has done and says, "I'm not sure this is good enough to merit an MVP award," is being purposefully obtuse or has become enamored of gaudy goal totals and not much else.

And yet, despite all this, we've heard a lot of talk about candidates even beyond those two. Henrik Lundqvist makes a good amount of sense, but if Tim Thomas couldn't win it last year, Lundqvist shouldn't this year. We've also heard from people who want to see the award go to Claude Giroux, which is based on a diminished version of more or less the same argument Malkin-backers espouse, or even Jarome Iginla, which is just weird.

This is probably, and rightly, going to be framed as a two-horse race until the awards are announced after the playoffs, but it should be a two-horse race in the way that Seabiscuit/War Admiral was a two-horse race. In the end, the better competitor ran away with that one.

They don't let people vote on who should have won a horse race for a reason.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks hosted a fashion show the other day. No word on whether everybody in the audience with the exception of Toni Lydman's wife was running for the exits.

Boston Bruins: After Friday night, the Bruins slipped out of the top spot in the Northeast for the first time since Nov. 30, and the team considered that a "wake-up call" that they needed to start winning again. They regained it again with a shootout win over Philadelphia on Saturday, but even still, they blew a 2-0 lead to get there.

Buffalo Sabres: This weekend was the Sabres' annual family trip, and many players brought their moms this year after bringing their dads in the past. "It's kind of relaxing having your mom here where you can just sit and relax with her, beat her up in 500 Rummy," Patrick Kaleta said. Guaranteed Kaleta plays dirty in that as well.

Calgary Flames: The Calgary media tied a yellow ribbon around a tree for Sven Baertschi, who was shipped back to the WHL yesterday when Lee Stempniak returned from injury.

Carolina Hurricanes: AP headline for Carolina's easy 5-3 win over the Wild: "Brent, Sutter lead Hurricanes past Minnesota." Wait I thought that guy coaches the Flames...

Chicago Blackhawks: The reason the Blackhawks have continued winning even after Jonathan Toews went down with a concu… lower body injury is that Patrick Kane has picked it up big-time. Heading into last night's home date with Washington, the Blackhawks were 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, and Kane has nine points in nine games, including five in the last four.

Colorado Avalanche: Granted the Rangers aren't playing especially good hockey these days but did you ever think you'd see the Avs drill them 3-1 at MSG? Did you ever think you'd see Matt Hunwick score a goal like this on Henrik Lundqvist?

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are "perfecting the art of social media" which is all well and good but maybe focusing on the art of, oh I don't know, getting your players the proper equipment might be a better way to go forward.

Dallas Stars: How hot have the Stars been lately? They're starting to draw big crowds for practice. Hell, let's not forget they weren't drawing many fans for a lot of games last season.

Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: Darren Helm might miss a decent amount of time with a bum left leg he injured in an overtime loss to San Jose, the same game they got Pavel Datsyuk back. Now the team is missing him, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, Joey MacDonald, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl. Tough luck right at the end of the season.

Related Links

Edmonton Oilers: Scary play Friday night in which Cory Sarich checked Taylor Hall as the forward was already falling to the ice.

Hall got a concussion on the play. Ugh.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers' lead in their division is starting to get mighty comfortable. Things are going to get even easier this week because, after they play Philly tomorrow night, their next six games are against — get this — the Hurricanes, Oilers, Canadiens, Wild, and Blue Jackets. We can probably go ahead and just pencil them in as Southeast champs right now.

Los Angeles Kings: Crazy stat for how bad the Kings' offense was before this recent run: They've gone 4-4-2 when Anze Kopitar scored their first goal this season, and all four of those losses were because it was the ONLY goal they scored.

Minnesota Wild: Mikko Koivu was held out of his 14th straight contest as a game-time decision, and the Wild lost their fifth in a row at home to Florida on Saturday night. Remember when they started 20-7-3? They're 9-25-7 since. Oof.

Montreal Canadiens: Headline: "Montreal Canadiens lose, but there's a bright side." Yup, there are only nine games left in the season, then everyone gets fired.

Nashville Predators: Kevin Klein returned to the lineup for the Preds on Saturday night — because they needed more help, right? — but his team lost. Ryan Ellis got scratched in favor of Jack Hillen to make room, for some reason.

New Jersey Devils: Travis Zajac is skating again but still doesn't have a return date projected, though he thinks it'll be pretty soon. He hasn't played a game since Jan. 2, but would be a very helpful player for the surging Devils to get back, eh?

New York Islanders: Love the loft on this pass from Travis Hamonic to Frans Nielsen for a goal. But by all means, let's bring the red line back.

New York Rangers: Yeah the Rangers lost on Saturday, but getting Ryan Callahan, Michael Del Zotto, and Henrik Lundqvist all back healthy at the same time seems to me like a great way to break out of this terrible slump.

Ottawa Senators: Speaking of important players coming back from injury, Craig Anderson looks like he'll do exactly that pretty soon. Good news for the Sens. Bad news for the Bruins.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ilya Bryzgalov helped his team pick up an overtime win against archrival Pittsburgh, snapping the Pens' winning streak. Since he got the hook against those Pens on Feb. 18, he's 10-2-1 with a 1.67 GAA and .941 save percentage. Unreal turnaround.

Phoenix Coyotes: Wonderful story on Paul Bissonnette and how he is trying to deal with the changing role of the enforcer in the NHL today.

Pittsburgh Penguins: With regard to that whole "Evgeni Malkin should be the top-of-your-ballot MVP" thing earlier, there is this goal:

San Jose Sharks: Hey Martin Havlat scored two goals in his second game back from injury. That runs his season total to four. Well, at least his two games back were wins, right?

St. Louis Blues: David Backes blocked a shot with his left foot on Saturday, and fortunately didn't fracture it. How much time is he going to miss, Ken Hitchcock. "It's day-to-day, week-to-week." That second part sounds fairly ominous, no?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Not even Steven Stamkos could generate enough scoring chances to make Tampa's 3-1 loss to St. Louis on Saturday close. Oh, also they gave up their 29th-in-the-league 11th shorthanded goal in the game. Which didn't help matters.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf is a noted hater of goal-cams.

Vancouver Canucks: Should Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo split time on the team's four-game road trip. Well, only one of those games, tonight's against Minnesota, looks like it will be particularly easy, so give Luongo the go in that one, I guess.

Washington Capitals: Marcus Johansson on Mark Stuart not getting suspended after a clear hit from behind: "I think it's weird." Welcome to the world of NHL supplementary discipline, Marcus. That's life.

Winnipeg Jets: "Winnipeg's arts scene copes with the NHL's return." Two of those pieces of art? A sign made by Twitter user "snakedogg187" with a marijuana reference, and a photo from "Grumpy Old Men: The Musical." This is what happens when a town thinks the Atlanta Thrashers are a good hockey team, I guess.

Gold Star Award

Semyon Varlamov was pretty much the only reason the Avs won in New York on Saturday, since he stopped 41 of 42. He's been trying real hard lately to make that trade for him look not-so-stupid.

Minus of the Weekend

Pekka Rinne had played in seven straight games and was expected to get a bit of rest on Saturday against the Kings, but Barry Trotz started him and watched his goaltender cough up four on 27 in a game the team needed to win to pick up ground on slumping Detroit. Oops.

Play of the Weekend
Easy one this week: It's Alex Edler scoring the easiest coast-to-coast goal in National Hockey League history.

The defending by Nikita Nikitin (No. 6 for Columbus) is particularly hilarious. Skate away from the man with the puck, prevent your own partner from skating over to cover for you, fall down. Perfect.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "illpucks" has a great idea.

To Columbus:
Corey Perry

To Anaheim:
Rick Nash
2012 1st Overall Pick

Signoff
As long as I have teeth, I will bite you!

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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