Like any other New Jersey Devils fan, I appreciate Zach Parise as an impact player. But it's still odd to hear a media guy like Ed Olczyk put him over on "NHL Live" today as one of the League's must-see offensive players; and it's even more surreal to see a New Jersey Devils forward in the top three of the goal-scoring leaders.
The best goal output in Devils' history was Brian Gionta in 2005-06, when post-lockout offense went nutty. He scored 48 goals, but put him behind Jonathan Cheechoo (56), Jaromir Jagr (54), Alexander Ovechkin (52), Ilya Kovalchuk (52) and Dany Heatley (50).
Parise's on pace to break Gionta's mark if he stays healthy. Michelle Kenneth of Inside Hockey asked him about challenging for the Richard Trophy this season:
I asked him if he was now eyeing the leading goal scorer title. He laughed.
"I have the same answer for you," he said. "I just want to keep playing well and hopefully things will just take care of themselves. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I'm not gonna [say it]."
A few minutes after that response he asked if Ovechkin had scored a goal in the game against the New York Rangers. I responded that he hadn't scored a goal in the game, which means that Parise only needs 3 more goals to tie with Ovechkin for first place.
So does Jeff Carter of the Philadelphia Flyers, who hasn't continued the absolutely torrid pace he had in December but remains in the hunt.
And it is a hunt, after all. Ovechkin won the Richard last year, and remains the League's most dangerous goal-scorer. Judging the five players in back of him in the rankings, can he be caught?
The great Behind The Net provides the following glimpse at the top six goal-scorers in the NHL this season. Here are their overall goals, average goals per 60 minutes of ice time, average goals per 60 minutes of power-play time and power-play goals scored.
Goals/60 Minutes - 5-on-5
Goals/60 Minutes - 5-on-4 (PPG scored)
Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Jeff Carter, Philadelphia Flyers
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
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Unlike the other contenders, the Sabres (11th), Devils (13th) and Flames (16th) all have power plays outside of the Top 10, which make Vanek's production with the man advantage startling.
While Carter's productivity on the power play is impressive, his average ice time on the man-advantage per game (2:46) is well below that of Ovechkin (5:44). Which is both a function of the Flyers having other offensive options and being second-to-last in the NHL in power-play opportunities (205, while the Capitals have 231).
Last in the NHL in power plays? The Devils, with 198. So Parise is making the most of his chances.
If it seems like I'm putting the onus on power-play tallies as a potential determining factor in this race, that's because two of the last three Richard winners were also in the top three of power-play goals: Ovechkin led the NHL with 22 last year and Cheechoo was tied for second overall in 2005-06 with 24. Vincent Lecavalier was tied for fifth in the League with 16 PPG two seasons ago.
Can Ovechkin be caught? Well, he scored 17 goals from March 1 to the playoffs last season. If he repeats that feat, it's game over. But the Capitals aren't in the same win-or-go-home mindset they were last stretch run.
Hossa's on a team with so many other great talents that there might not be enough pucks to go around. He's also never hit 50 goals, which is where this race appears headed. Cammalleri would have to get awfully hot to catch the field.
If I bet dollars to donuts on a player that could catch him, it would be Carter rather than the others. The Flyers are going to be in a battle every night for playoff seeding, they're loaded up front and there's always a chance he could hit his stride again as he did near the end of 2008. Parise's been so good in the last two months, one assumes he'll trail off a little. Right?
Bottom line: It's as odd to think that Ovechkin might not have this wrapped up as it is to see a Devils player within reach of the NHL goal's lead.