During the first half of the season the National Hockey League has offered up non-stop promotion for its reality series on HBO centered around Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby---one that will culminate in tomorrow's much hyped and aniticipated Winter Classic at Heinz Field.
In the second half of the season no other special programming is planned, though I suggest that focus shift from the Sid the Kid vs. Ovie to Sid vs. The New Kid in Town, Tampa's Steven Stamkos.
Crosby and Stamkos do not have the history that Sid and Ovechkin share, and Stamkos has yet to be raised by the league's marketing gurus to their lofty status just yet. But is there a better one-on-one battle being waged in the league right now than the one between Crosby and Stamkos for the Hart Trophy (not to mention Art Ross Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy)?
Like Sid and Ovie, these two are former first overall picks carrying great expectations on their shoulders---and succeeding in masterful fashion. Their games are a bit different---Stamkos more the sniper, Crosby more the overall package offensively---but since tying for the NHL's goal-scoring lead a year ago, the games of Stamkos and Crosby have been more intertwined really than those of Sid and Ovie.
Stamkos scored another pair of goals last night, including a you-can't-believe-this spin-o-rama penalty shot goal vs. Montreal's helpless Carey Price. He now has 9 points (5-4-9) in his last 4 games. And perhaps most impressive is the fact that despite Crosby reeling off an incredible 25-game point-scoring streak, Stamkos is still right there breathing down Sid's neck in both the points race and the goal-scoring race.
The kid chasing The Kid.
Check out the numbers of the two: Crosby, 23, leads the league with 32 goals and 65 points in 39 games. Stamkos, 3 years younger at 20, is second in both categories with 31 goals and 56 points in 38 games. Stamkos leads the NHL with 13 power play goals, and Crosby is second with 10. Stamkos is connecting on 22% of his shots, Sid right behind at 20.8%. Crosby is second in the league with a +20 plus/minus mark, Stamkos is a solid +12 for a much looser defensive team.
And most importantly, Crosby's team and Stamkos' team are both winning. Currently the Penguins sit atop the Atlantic Division---and the Eastern Conference---with 53 points. The Lightning lead the Southeast Division with 49 points while holding down the second seed in the East.
Should all of this success continue---and really, barring injury to either player, why wouldn't it?---there is going to be one heckuva' run for the Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player.
Right now my pick would be....oh wait, can't give away any secrets here. My "Halfway Home Awards" are coming next week here on Rink Rap, as I choose the league's award winners through the first half of the season.
But let's just say this is a two-man race. And Alex Ovehckin isn't in this picture.
The kid versus The Kid.
Tonight closes out a very action-packed calendar year 2010. Thank you for the support you have shown me this past year---and thanks for the debates, suggestions, and laughs along the way.
Enjoy ringing in the new year this evening, but please be smart and be safe so that we can share more great memories together in 2011!
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