NHL News ‘n Notes for End-March 2014.

With less than two weeks remaining in this season, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is all but certain to win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer for the second time in his career.

Crosby won his first Art Ross back in 2007. Entering the second-last week of this season he holds a 16-point lead over Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and a 19-point lead over Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux. He’s also poised to be the only player to reach 100-points this season, marking the fifth time in his career he’s reached that plateau. Crosby was on pace to win the Art Ross last season until sidelined for the final weeks of the season with a broken jaw, which allowed Martin St. Louis to overtake him. Crosby’s also on track for his first injury-free season of his NHL career, and a strong candidate to win the Hart Trophy this season..

 

Claude Giroux is leading the Flyers second-half resurgence.

Claude Giroux is leading the Flyers second-half resurgence.

Speaking of Claude Giroux, after a horrible start to this season he’s poured it on in the second half, especially since the Olympic break. From March 1 to 29 he tallied 21 points in 13 games. That’s a far cry from the six points in his first 13 games of this season. Giroux has steadily improved since his poor start to this season. His surge down the stretch is a major reason why the Flyers, after their worst start in decades, are poised to clinch a playoff berth.

 

In the search for a scapegoat for the March collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs, some fans and pundits have singled out defenseman Dion Phaneuf. There’s no question Phaneuf isn’t a superstar defensemen. His offensive skills and willingness to make big hits are his strength. He plays better when paired with a skilled, defensive-minded blueline partner. Phaneuf’s done his best to play up to expectations, but he’s in over his head this season.

Phaneuf deserves his fair share of blame for the Leafs’ crappy play of late, but their current free-fall is totally a team effort. The goaltending has faltered, the rest of the defense is considerably less skilled than Phaneuf, while the secondary scoring has dried up. Management failed to suitably address their defensive issues last summer, stupidly throwing big bucks at a third-line free agent winger. Head coach Randy Carlyle seems to be at a loss to address the Leafs problems. It’s not just a single player responsible for the Leafs collapse.

 

Being traded to the Dallas Stars was the best thing that could’ve happened to Tyler Seguin and his NHL career. As a first-line center with Jamie Benn on his wing, Seguin entered this weekend as the NHL’s fifth-leading scorer, with 76 points in 71 games. He and Benn will be the cornerstone of the Stars for years to come.

 

In my opinion the most underrated player among this season’s top-ten NHL scorers is San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski. His 72 points in 75 games is a career best. “Little Joe” is often overshadowed by teammates Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture. He remains an invaluable part of the Sharks lineup.

 

Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames is the NHL’s most underrated defenseman this season. Playing on a rebuilding club with no superstars and little chance of making the playoffs, Giordano’s 44-points ranks him second overall in team scoring and ranks him with the leading scorers among NHL defensemen. He’s also accomplished this after missing 18 games earlier this season to a lower-body injury. He’s a terrific two-way defenseman and a great choice to replace the departed Jarome Iginla as team captain. No wonder he was among the final cuts for Canada’s Men’s Olympic team. Had he not been sidelined, he might have made that roster.

 

If you’re wondering why Carolina Hurricanes starting goalie Cam Ward was the subject of trade rumors this season, look no further than the performance of backup Anton Khudobin. In 30 games Khudobin had a 16-12-0 record, with a .929 SP and a 2.20 GAA. That’s also why they re-signed him to a two-year contract extension, and why he could take over as their starter next season.

 

Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray offered up tepid support for coach Paul MacLean, saying he had no definite answer on his future beyond this season but noting MacLean has a contract going forward. I doubt Murray will fire MacLean only a year after he won coach of the year honors. Either Murray used a poor choice of words when discussing his coach’s future, or owner Eugene Melnyk isn’t pleased with the Sens’ performance under MacLean this year.

 

Detroit Red Wings rookie Tomas Tatar is facing eviction from his condo following numerous complaints from his neighbors since last October for excessive noise and parking in the short-term guest parking spots. The condo’s owner? Tatar’s Red Wings teammate Darren Helm.