With 2 weeks left to go, several of the NHL awards are all but decided. Dave Tippet is the clear favorite to win the Jack Adams. Matt Duchesne is a fairly good bet for the Calder. And who's going to stand in the way of Pavel Datsyuk capturing his 5th straight Lady Byng? However, it appears that the race for the Rocket Richard trophy may come down to the final game. So who's the favorite to capture the goal scoring title? Let's take a look at handicapping the favorites, in order of the current standings:
1. Sidney Crosby (47)
Crosby made it publicly known before the season started that he decided to score more goals. Apparently, he's just able to decide things and they happen, as he currently sits on top of the league with 47 tallies. He's a lock for 50 this season, but can he outpace the competition?
Games Remaining: 6 (TB, ATL, WAS, NYI, ATL, NYI)
Last 10 Games: 3 goals. Crosby went on a 7 game dry spell before putting 2 goals on the board against Toronto last night.
What it will take: Of the top 3, Crosby has one less game, but the competition isn't all that daunting. With 2 games against the Thrashers and Islanders, there's plenty of opportunity to put up big totals. The one factor that most affect his chances is the health of teammate Evgeni Malkin. Crosby's numbers have been significantly better with his partner in the lineup. If Malkin returns from his foot injury soon, it could give #87 the boost he needs.
2. Alex Ovechkin (46)
Clearly, had he not suffered injuries, and multiple episodes of stupid on ice behavior, this race would probably have been decided already. He's played 10 less games than Crosby, yet sits only 1 goal back.
Games Remaining: 7 (OTT, ATL, COB, BOS, PIT, ATL, BOS)
Last 10 Games: 4 goals. Just like the man above him, Ovechkin has dried up a bit in March.
What it will take: Ovechkin has one extra game to catch Crosby, assuming he's not suspended again. His schedule isn't terribly challenging either, as he also gets two shots at Atlanta and a go at Columbus. Circle April 6th on the calendar, when Pittsburgh and Washington face off. Both players will be extra inspired. A few questions from the media leading up to that game may be all the fire Ovie needs to put him over the top.
3. Steven Stamkos (45)
The surprise entry in the sweepstakes is young Steven Stamkos. I guess it's not terribly surprising, as the trend over the past 5 years is that the young guns are running the show. Stamkos showed in the second half of last season that he would live up to his pre-draft hype. This year, he's clearly arrived as a superstar and he's right in the running for the goal lead.
Games Remaining: 7 (COB, PIT, NYR, CAR, OTT, FLA, FLA)
Last 10 Games: 4 goals. Stamkos went on a crazy tear at the start of March, then slowed down a bit. He has 3 in his last 4 games, so he's heating back up.
What it will take: Stamkos has the momentum on his side, and the strength of schedule. He gets a shot at Columbus, Carolina, and finishes the year with 2 matches against a Florida team who will have nothing to play for.
4. Patrick Marleau (42)
Marleau shocked the league by tearing out of the gate to start the season. He was at the top of the pack midway through, but has cooled off a bit in the past couple of months. He's still within reach of the top, but only if the leaders struggle, get suspended, or are rested in the final week.
5. Dany Heatley, Marian Gaborik, Ilya Kovalchuk (39)
Oddly enough, 3 of the men heavily favored to win this trophy before the season started are all lingering at 39 goals a piece. It's conceivable that any one of these stars can go on a tear, put up a couple of hat tricks this week and find themselves near the top as we close out the season. The problem is, the leaders won't roll over for them, so don't bet on it happening.
So who will come out on top?
While all eyes, and most bets will be on Crosby and Ovechkin to battle to the finish, my money is on Mr. Stamkos to be hoisting the trophy in Vegas this summer. With Tampa most likely being eliminated with about a week to go, his teammates and coaches may give him extra opportunities to pad the stats against some weak competition. Either way, I'm betting we see all 3 men hit the 50 goal marker, with Stamkos edging them out by 1.