It seems as though the 2011-12 season has just started, but we are already at the halfway point. Let’s take a look at each team’s most valuable player so far, starting with the Eastern Conference. Check back tomorrow for the Western Conference.
Boston Bruins – Tim Thomas
Tim Thomas had one of the best seasons by a goaltender last season including setting a record with a .938 save percentage. He’s doing just as well this season with an identical save percentage, slightly better 1.99 goals-against average and four shutouts. He won 10 straight at one point and didn’t lose a single game in the month of November. The Bruins look invincible with him in net, even better than last season when they won the Stanley Cup.
Buffalo Sabres – Thomas Vanek
The Sabres have had trouble sustaining any continued success this season. Ryan Miller missed eight games due to a concussion and hasn’t been himself since and big offseason acquisitions Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff have been busts so far. Vanek has been steady, leading the team with 19 goals, eight power play goals, four game-winning goals and is one of just four players with a positive plus-minus rating (plus-1). With the exception of Jason Pominville, Vanek has been the only constant supply of offense this season.
Carolina Hurricanes – Jeff Skinner
Skinner has been the only player on the Hurricanes playing up to expectations this season, unfortunately he has missed the past 12 games with a concussion. He was doing so much better than everyone else on the team, it took Eric Staal 10 games to pass him as the team’s leading scorer. In 13 fewer games, he is only two goals behind Tuomo Ruutu and five points behind Staal for the team lead in each category.
Florida Panthers – Brian Campbell
GM Dale Tallon struck gold with several offseason acquisitions including leading scorers Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, but Campbell has been a rock on the blueline after several sub-par seasons in Chicago. He leads the team, and is second among all defensemen, with 30 assists and in even strength and power play ice time. He controls the pace of the game and has shown he can be a stud when afforded the opportunity to be the main guy on defense.
Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price
The Canadiens are 12th in the Eastern Conference with 41 points, but Price is doing his best to give them a chance to win every night. The Habs are 11th in the league in defense, despite having a less than stellar blueline. He has been he busiest goalie in the league while recording the second best goals-against average in his career (2.45).
New Jersey Devils – Patrik Elias
Elias is quietly having another great season. He had point in 17 of the first 20 games and has been by far their most consistent player. The Devils are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference thanks to the tremendous play of Elias who recently played his 1,000th game in the NHL and earlier became the Devils’ all-time leading scorer. He has helped rejuvenate Petr Sykora and continues to play a strong two-way game.
New York Islanders – Matt Moulson
Moulson is blossoming into one of the top goal scorers in the league. He is on pace for his third consecutive 30-goal season and has a positive plus-minus rating for the first time since 2007-08. He is tops on the team with 18 goals, a plus-2, six power play goals, four game-winning goals and is second with 33 points, three behind leading scorer John Tavares. In the Islanders 14 wins this season, Moulson has 12 goals and 19 points.
New York Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist
Of goalies with at least 20 games played this season, Lundqvist is second in goals-against average (1.89), save percentage (.939) and fifth in wins (18) and shutouts (three). His solid play has backstopped the Rangers to the best record in the NHL and they have been without Marc Staal, their best defenseman, for all but three games so far.
Ottawa Senators – Erik Karlsson
Karlsson has quickly developed into one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL. He has already set a career high with 34 assists, leading all defensemen in that category along with points (39). His play in his own zone has improved as his plus-2 rating is vastly greater than the minus-30 he posted last season. Like Campbell in Florida, he controls the pace of the game for the Sens, playing 25:35 per game.
Philadelphia Flyers – Claude Giroux
Giroux has a great shot at becoming the first Flyer to win the Hart Trophy since Eric Lindros in 1995. His points per game average (1.37) is the best in the league and he is one point behind Henrik Sedin for the league lead despite having played seven fewer games. He leads the Flyers in goals (18), assists (30), points (48), game-winning goals (five), time on ice among forwards (21:34), takeaways (19), power play assists (14) and faceoff percentage (51.2).
Pittsburgh Penguins – Marc-Andre Fleury
The Penguins have faced a ton of injury problems this season and not just to captain Sidney Crosby. Top defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek have also missed significant time, but Fleury has been steady all season, losing consecutive games only three times. He is on pace to record the lowest goals-against average of his career (2.28) and third highest save percentage (.912). Fleury is tied with Pekka Rinne for second in the league with 19 wins.
Tampa bay Lightning – Steven Stamkos
After falling into a slump at the end of last season with five goals in his final 28 games, Stamkos is once again the top goal scorer in the league. He is the only player on pace for 50 goals and is currently riding a five-game goal streak; he also has streaks of four and three games this season. He is showing that the Lightning are now his team and he is taking the title of best goal scorer in the league for himself.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Phil Kessel
Kessel’s potential for dominance on offense has never been in question, but he has never been able to use his blazing speed and creativity with any consistency. Until now. Kessel has yet to go two games without recording a point and has been among the top five scorers since the first day of the season. He remarkable season is the reason Toronto has moved from 23rd in offense last season to fifth this year.
Washington Capitals – Nicklas Backstrom
He has been the only consistent player this season as the Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin are in the middle of career worst years. Backstrom has been a steady presence on offense until he took an elbow to the head from Calgary’s Rene Bourque. He leads Washington in assists (29), points (42), power play assists (15) and game-winning goals (four).
Winnipeg Jets – Evander Kane
Evander Kane has been everything for the Jets this season. He scores, plays physical and is solid in his own zone and is near the top is almost every significant statistical category and brings a ton of energy to the rink every night. He is already just one goal away from his career high and is a major reason why the Jets are currently within a single point of a playoff spot.
A native of Monroe Township, NJ, Tim received his Bachelor’s Degree in Contemporary Journalism from Endicott College in Beverly, MA. A Flyers fan growing up, he has gone to numerous events including each installment of the Winter Classic, the Stanley Cup final and the 2010 Olympics.
In addition to The Hockey Writers, Tim also writes for The Good Point and interned with The Hockey News from Jan. to May 2011, contributing to their book Hockey’s Most Amazing Records. Outside of hockey, Tim enjoys reading and watching movies and extreme sports such as snowboarding and skydiving.