Monday, February 9, 2009

Race for "The Rocket" heats up.

Last year, the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Jarome Iginla, Evgeny Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg all challenged for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, which is awarded to the player who finishes the regular season with the most goals. However, in spite of gallant efforts by all those forenamed, it was all for not, as the stupefying campaign of Alexander Ovechkin left all his opponents in the dust.

By the end of the season "Ovie" had opened a 13 goal lead on fellow countryman Ilya Kovalchuk, while setting an NHL record for most goals by a left wing (65) previously set by Luc Robitaille in the 1992-93 season.

Notwithstanding, this years race is shaping up much differently, and features some fresh new faces - and of course that of Alexander Ovechkin's still sits as the front runner.

So far, Alex has his work cut out for him, slugging it out with other members of the NHL's youth movement in his bid to take The Rocket in back-to-back seasons. While registering 6 goals in his past 4 games, Ovechkin has moved atop the scoring leaders with 37 on the year.

But not so fast. With plenty of games to go, Ovechkin is anything but a slam dunk to take top prize. Here three reasons why.

Jeff Carter notched his 100th career goal Sunday in Atlanta, and added his 101st for good measure. Carter is on pace to break 100 points for the first time in his career as he has carried the load in goal scoring for the Philadelphia Flyers. He currently sits behind Ovechkin with 34 goals through 52 games.

Since entering the NHL, all Thomas Vanek has done is score goals. Now in his fourth NHL season, Vanek has never finished with less than 20 goals in a year. He was on pace to challenge for a 50 goal season before breaking his jaw against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. The Austrian born winger will be out of the Sabres line-up for 3 to 4 weeks, which will most likely take him out of the running. With 32 goals, Vanek sits third overall in scoring.

Former Washington Capital Bobby Carpenter became the first American-born player to reach 50 goals when he scored 53 for the Capitals in 1984-85. This season, Zach Parise hopes to duplicate that feat for the New Jersey Devils. The son of former Minnesota North Star J.P. Parise, Zach is starting to make his name as a legitimate scoring threat in the NHL. Parise netted two more goals tonight in a 3-0 shutout win over the New York Rangers and is now tied with Vanek for third in scoring (32). Parise is coming off two 30+ goal campaigns and hopes to add his name to the 50+ club come April.

What's astounding about this group of players is that none of them are over the age of 25. Suffice to say that these names could appear atop the leader boards for few years to come, something which is great news for NHL fans and GM's alike.

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