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The puck drops on the last game of the NHL's regular season on Apr. 7 in San Jose at 10:30 p.m. ET, which means that we’re roughly two days from teams’ seasons either being over, or just beginning.
For the teams in the Northwest Division, it appears that only one team will be representing them in the league’s “second season,” so it’s only fitting that we take this time to look back over the best of the best that the Northwest had to offer in the 2011-12 season.
Top Forward: Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks – Even with the emergence of Jordan Eberle this season, Henrik of the Sedin Twins has been head and shoulders above the rest in terms of his performance in 2011-12. Henrik is eighth in the NHL in scoring, with 80 points in 80 games and he leads the NHL in assists with 67. His plus-25 rating is good for a tie for 11th in the league. What’s more is that, of his 13 goals, five have been game-winners and four have been the first goals of the game, meaning that he doesn’t always score goals, but when he does they’re important ones.
Top Defenseman: Alex Edler, Vancouver Canucks – One of the major excuses for the reason many of the top offensive defensemen rarely get nods for the Norris Trophy is that, on the whole, many consider defensemen that put up a load of points to be defensive liabilities. That isn’t the case for the Canucks’ Alex Edler, who plays in absolutely every situation for the Canucks and has thrived in absolutely every situation this season. Edler is tied for sixth among defensemen in the NHL in points with 49 (tied, no less, with perennial Norris favorite Shea Weber), tied for eighth in goals (11) and has 141 hits and 141 blocked shots this season, the latter of which puts him in the top 30 among defensemen. His plus/minus isn’t out of this world (+2), but the fact that Edler averages over three minutes on the power play and over two on the penalty kill per game certainly shows that he isn’t a defensive liability.
Top Goaltender: Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames – It would be easy to discount the season that Kiprusoff has had because of the way that the Flames’ season has gone this year. But Kipper has done what he always does – thrive on a team that doesn’t score a whole lot and gives up a whole lot of shots. There are certainly goalies whose statistics might be a bit more gaudy (a .920 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average aren’t anything to sneeze at, but neither are what you would call elite level numbers), but none in the Northwest Division have come close to facing as many shots as Kiprusoff has. Kipper has faced 2006 shots this season, while the next closest is Roberto Luongo with 1560 – and none are as important to their squad’s success as Kiprusoff has been this season.
Top Coach: Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche – If you would have told anyone at the beginning of the season that the Avalanche would be contending for a playoff spot this late in the season, they probably would have laughed in your face. Sacco has gotten this team to buy into his philosophy, though, and the team is playing tremendous under him. Despite a lack of consistent offense, they’re 11th in the league in goals against, 12th on the power play, 12th on the penalty kill and they’re winning almost 60 percent of their games when they’ve been outshot. Sure, Sacco has gotten some great performances from his players, but it could be said that he’s gotten some great performances out of his players, instead, and that is the mark of a great coach.
Division MVP: Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers – There might be sexier picks for this slot, but the fact of the matter is that the definition of MVP is the player that is most valuable to their team, and Eberle is certainly that. Without Eberle, the Oilers still have two dynamic youngsters, but their offense wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous. Eberle is scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace, he’s scored the first goal in nine contests this season (five more than the next closest player) and he’s got four game-winners and ten power-play goals. Not only that, but Eberle plays over three minutes per game on the team’s power play and his defensive game has improved dramatically as well. Also, with eight penalty minutes, Eberle is one of the least penalized players in the league. With other teams in the division, if their top player goes down with an injury, they’re able to replace him and a number of other players could step up and fill the gap. With the Oilers and Eberle, that’s not necessarily the case, which shows just how much he’s worth to his squad.
Northwest Division Notes
The Flames recalled forward Akim Aliu from Abbotsford on Wednesday. Aliu has ten goals and 14 points in 40 games for Abbotsford this season. … Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry looks to return to action on Thursday in Calgary’s final home game. Petry took a puck to the face in Edmonton’s game against the Los Angeles Kings last week. … The Wild have recalled defenseman Tyler Cuma to the team under emergency conditions on Wednesday. Cuma has nine assists and 42 penalty minutes in 68 games for the Houston Aeros this season.