Three-on-three overtime was a hit, scoring continued to decline (to 5.21 goals per game), the Florida Panthers clawed their way atop the Atlantic Division, and the Kings built a sizable lead in the Pacific Division as the NHL reached the halfway point Saturday.
The Dallas Stars, who missed the playoffs last season, have the best record in the West but have stumbled lately. The Tampa Bay Lightning, last season’s East champion, was struggling for consistency and an answer to Jonathan Drouin’s trade request, while the Ducks averaged fewer than two goals per game and couldn’t stay in playoff position in the weak Pacific Division.
A look at how the season has developed through the first half:
Hart Trophy (MVP)
Winner: Patrick Kane, Chicago. Runners-up: Jamie Benn, Dallas; Braden Holtby, Washington.
Kane was exceptional while the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks adjusted to roster changes. He had a 26-game scoring streak and leads the NHL with 62 points in 44 games, a 116-point pace. Benn has been among the top scorers with 25 goals and 53 points and has become a locker-room leader for the high-scoring Stars. Holtby has provided stellar goaltending for the Capitals and is 19-0-2 in his last 22 starts. He has a league-high 27 wins to go with a 1.93 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
Winner: Holtby. Runners-up: Jonathan Quick; Kings; Corey Crawford, Chicago; Roberto Luongo, Florida.
It’s tough to argue with Holtby’s success. Quick (2.05, .925 through Sunday) has been the Kings’ backbone. Crawford (2.21, .926) hasn’t won fans’ hearts but has been solid for the Blackhawks, who have a seven-game winning streak. Luongo (2.06, .931 through Sunday) has enjoyed a renaissance with the Panthers, who had a 12-game winning streak when they faced Vancouver on Monday.
Calder Trophy (rookie of the year)
Winner: Dylan Larkin, Detroit. Runners-up: Artemi Panarin, Chicago; Max Domi, Arizona; Colton Parayko, St. Louis.
Larkin, 19, made an impressive jump from college to the Red Wings. His plus-24 defensive rating led the NHL through Sunday’s games, and he was second among rookie scorers with 29 points. Panarin has 39 points but had four KHL seasons behind him and is 24. Domi (10 goals, 28 points) has been dynamic for the young Coyotes. Parayko has assumed a big role on the Blues’ defense and is averaging more than 19 minutes per game.
Winner: Drew Doughty, Kings. Runners-up: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; Ryan Suter, Minnesota.
Let’s keep the “defense” in defenseman. Doughty, who averages 27 minutes 59 seconds’ ice time per game, is a force at both ends of the ice. Karlsson (45 points and a league-high average ice time of 28:35) is more like a fourth forward and isn’t diligent defensively. Suter (27 points, 28:22 ice time) is durable, smart and a perennial Norris candidate.
Jack Adams Award (coach of the year)
Winner: Gerard Gallant, Florida. Runners-up: Barry Trotz, Washington; Darryl Sutter, Kings.
Gallant has done an excellent job managing the youth and the oldsters on his roster. Trotz has taken good material and made it better, guiding the Capitals to the top spot in the NHL. Sutter is making sure his players won’t fall into the trap that ensnared them last season, when they thought they’d make the playoffs until the moment they were eliminated. He has them playing championship-caliber defense.
Team: Ducks, Lightning, Penguins.
The Ducks have scored a league-low 76 goals (excluding shoot-outs) and have shown little chemistry. Defending East champion Tampa Bay, out of a playoff spot, must decide whether to extend or trade Steven Stamkos. Pittsburgh, which fired coach Mike Johnston and replaced him with Mike Sullivan in December, has too much talent to be outside a playoff spot.
Individual: Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks. You, dear reader, have scored as many even-strength goals this season as Getzlaf, who last season tied for third in the NHL in even-strength scoring with 22 goals and 55 assists. His error-prone defensive play has hurt.
First-half surprise achievers
Team: Panthers, Stars.
Florida has lots of young talent and is getting leadership from Luongo, Willie Mitchell and the marvelous Jaromir Jagr. Benn, Tyler Seguin (24 goals, 51 points) and defenseman John Klingberg (38 points) have fueled the Stars, but can they hold off the onrushing Blackhawks?
• The New York Islanders changed their game-day routine. Instead of commuting to Brooklyn to skate at Barclays Center and taking day rooms at a hotel, they’re skating at their Long Island practice facility and then commuting. Players wanted more time at home.
• Injuries took a heavy toll on the St. Louis Blues last weekend. Coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday that goaltender Jake Allen, defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson and forward Magnus Paajarvi are week to week, and forward Paul Stastny is day to day. All have upper- or lower-body injuries.
• A non-displaced fracture of the left foot is expected to cause Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk (14 goals, 15 assists in 40 games) to miss six to eight weeks.
• Bravo to Calgary executives for signing defenseman Robyn Regehr to a one-day contract so he could retire Monday as a Flame. He spent 11 seasons in Calgary and finished with the Kings last season after winning the Stanley Cup with them in 2014.