Now seems as good a time as any to talk about the MVP-worthy season Taylor Hall is having.
And it’s not because he entered Tuesday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens on a 25-game point streak. Or that he is among the top 10 scorers in the NHL with 30 goals and 72 points in 61 games. Or that with Patrice Bergeron injured and Nathan MacKinnon on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, Hall has quietly entered the conversation for the Hart Trophy.
No, the reason is because it’s March and for the first time in his eight-year career, Hall is playing meaningful hockey.
This is new for him. During his time in Edmonton, meaningful games generally ended when the calendar turned over. A year ago at this time, the New Jersey Devils were on their way to finishing with the worst record in the Eastern Conference while the team he left behind in a trade was en route to its first playoff spot in more than a decade.
This season is different. Hall, who has not gone a game without a point since Dec. 30, has saved his best hockey for when it was needed the most. In the last two months, only Evgeni Malkin has been more productive than Hall, who has 18 goals and 36 points in the past 25 games. So the fact that Hall is not only on pace for his best season, but also appears headed towards his first-ever playoff appearance, is proof that maybe the 2010 No. 1 overall pick wasn’t as bad a teammate as his critics made him out to be.
In fact, the 27th-place Oilers could use a player like Hall these days — something that is not lost on him.
“I don’t know if vindicated is the right word,” Hall said in a conference call on Tuesday. “I always wanted to play on a playoff team. I’ve always wanted to be on a winning team, a successful team. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen in Edmonton. More so, I’m happy to be in that situation, I’m happy to be in a playoff race spotlight. That’s a fun place to be for myself after not experiencing that for my career.
“So I don’t think vindicated is the word I’d choose. I’m happy for the season I’m having personally, and I’m happy for my team’s season. That’s a good feeling to have after the years that I’ve been through.”
Before we talk about ending streaks, it must be said that the Devils entered Tuesday night’s game on a three-game losing streak. They currently hold the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 74 points, but only have a three-point lead over eighth-place Columbus and a four-point lead over ninth-place Florida, which has won eight of its last 10 games. The Devils trail Philadelphia, which holds third place in the Metropolitan Division, by five points.
In other words, Hall will need to continue his magic for the rest of March and possibly the first two weeks of April. But if he does, a player with more than 500 regular-season games under his belt will finally get his first taste of the playoffs.
“I don’t really feel all that much pressure individually,” he said of his recent point streak. “More so as a team, we feel pressure to make the playoffs, to get in there and get some wins down the stretch. That’s where my attention is now. I’ll trade a zero-point night at this point for a win. That’s where we’re at in the season right now.
“If I’m going to go pointless in a night, I hope it’s a night where I have seven or eight shots and the line I’m on generates a lot of chances and we’re able to generate a lot of offence and it just doesn’t go in. You don’t want to eventually go pointless where you don’t factor into much offensively.”
With the league’s top-20 scorers all producing at a point per game pace, this has been a good year for individual star talent. But it’s also been the year of the comeback.
Vegas’ William Karlsson, who has 59 points and is tied for fourth in the NHL with 35 goals, has already scored more than he did in his previous two seasons combined in Columbus. Alex Ovechkin is back leading the Rocket Richard Trophy race with 40 goals after finishing with only 33 in 2016-17, while Eric Staal is on pace for his best season in more than 10 years. And Marc-Andre Fleury and Roberto Luongo are among the leaders in save percentage.
Of course, it’s Hall who’s made the loudest noise.
“I’ve tried to play with a bit of a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “It’s been a year and a half since I‘ve been traded, so a bit of that has worn off. It’s more about how can I help my team here, how can we get into a better spot, how can we get into the playoffs? That’s been my motivation more so this year than last.”
While Taylor Hall has recently put his name in the hat for the Hart Trophy, there’s a lot of competition this year. Here are three other players who are having an MVP-worthy season:
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay
The Lightning winger has cooled off recently — he is tied for sixth in scoring since the All-Star break — but still leads all players with 85 points in 64 games. What could hurt his chances of winning, however, is that Tampa Bay is loaded with talent.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh
Since Jan. 1, Malkin has scored a league-best 23 goals and 46 points in 27 games. He ranks second in goals (37) — three back of Alex Ovechkin — and overall scoring (82) — three behind Kucherov. Of course, he plays on a team with Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado
If the Avalanche make the playoffs, MacKinnon will get a ton of consideration for the Hart. Not only is he ranked fifth in scoring with 77 games, but he’s done it in only 57 games with a points per game average (1.35) that is first in the league.
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