Jean-Yves Ahern/Icon SMI)
With the 2011-12 NHL season winding down, this seems like as good a time as any to present awards to players and coaches in the Northeast Division.
Top Forward: Jason Spezza, C, Ottawa Senators: In one of his healthier and more productive seasons in recent memory, Spezza has re-established himself as a top offensive player in the NHL. Sitting fourth in league scoring, the 28-year-old Spezza has scored 33 goals and added 50 helpers for 83 points this season. He also averages the most ice-time out of all Senators forwards at 19:55. He’s appeared in all but two games for the club this season, missing one game with the flu and another for the birth of his daughter. Currently, Spezza is riding a four-game point streak in which he has seven points.
Top Defenseman: Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins: While Erik Karlsson has been clearly the more dominant offensive defender, it’s hard to ignore the overall impact that the Bruins captain can have on a game. Not only is he a lethal weapon offensively (specific to the power play), he’s a beast in the defensive end where most nights he’s shutting down opposition forwards. At age 35, Chara has hit a career-high in points with 12 goals and 40 assists through 78 games, and has matched his career high +/- with a +33. His +33 is also second highest in the entire league.
Top Goaltender: Ryan Miller, G, Buffalo Sabres: The only reason the Sabres are even remotely close to playoff contention is due to the play of their goaltender. Miller has been sensational in the second half of the season after having a rough start to the year that saw him sustain a concussion. Miller ended up missing eight games due to the injury where the Sabres went 3-6. Miller has a 31-20-7 record this season with a 2.55 goals against average and a 0.916 save percentage.
Top Coach: Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators: Given the expectations heading into the season, Paul MacLean should have his name linked to the Jack Adams award for the year’s top coach. In his first season with the Senators, MacLean has coached his team to a 41-29-10 record (92 points) and has the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference all locked up. MacLean had been an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings the last six seasons.
Most Valuable Player: Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa Senators: Few players in the NHL, let alone a defenseman, bring the dynamic, game changing ability that 21-year-old Karlsson has provided for the Senators this season. It’s hard to really imagine the Senators being in the position they are in now without the year that the stud defender has had. His impressive 77-point season is best among his defensive peers, and is garnering heavy consideration for the Norris Trophy for the year’s top defenseman.
Northeast Division Notes
Boston Bruins –
The Bruins are in Ottawa tonight for the final regular season matchup against the division rival Senators. It’s a precursor to what’s looking like a first round playoff matchup. The Bruins will be resting some bodies including Tim Thomas, Patrice Bergeron, and Zdeno Chara in preparation for the postseason. 37-year-old Tim Thomas is considered an Honorable Mention for Top Goaltender in the Northeast Division.
Buffalo Sabres – Defenseman Tyler Myer’s foot injury has him out for an indefinite period of time. The Sabres are back in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot tonight as they travel to Philadelphia to play the Flyers. Captain Jason Pominville’s 72-point season is the second time in his career that he’s eclipsed the 70 point marker. His career high is 80 points that he set in 2007-08.
Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price was diagnosed with a mild concussion on Wednesday. He will not play for the remainder of the season. Gabriel Dumont played his first NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had 7:30 minutes of ice-time. Both Eric Cole and Max Pacioretty set career milestones in games played on Wednesday. Pacioretty played in his 200th career NHL game, while Cole saw his 700th. Both forwards had a pair of goals in the Canadiens 5-2 win.
Ottawa Senators – Goaltender Ben Bishop is expected to start tonight against the Boston Bruins, while Craig Anderson is expected to close out the season on Saturday. Bishop has been battling a lower body injury since March 26th. Erik Karlsson is still searching for his 20th goal of the season; he’s currently sitting at 19. Fellow Swede and Captain Daniel Alfredsson is looking to hit the 60 point mark for the 12th time in his 15 year career.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Honorable mention for Top Forward goes to Phil Kessel. The 24-year-old has had a sensational season for the Maple Leafs. He’s hit career highs in goals (37), assists (44) and points (81) heading into Thursday night’s action. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson has a separated shoulder and is done for the remainder of the season. The Maple Leafs will play host to the Lightning tonight.