Despite his overall stellar performance throughout the 2008-09 playoffs, Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby took a lot of heat last summer for his lack of results in last year's Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.
Given his lack of point production against Detroit in the finals—scoring just one goal in seven games, finishing with just three points in the series—Crosby was passed over for the Conn Smythe Trophy in favor of teammate Evgeni Malkin. This, despite Crosby leading all NHL players with 15 goals and finishing second overall in points with 31.
Malkin, who finished with 14 goals (second overall) and 36 points (first overall) in last year's playoffs, took home the coveted Conn Smythe trophy because of his superior performance in the Cup Final—there was a lot of weight attached to the Finals, many believe the defining factor was Malkin’s superior play in the Stanley Cup Final.
Throughout the 2009-10 playoffs, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has been the odds-on favorite to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the player deemed most important to his team's success. Toews leads all NHL players in playoff points with 26 and is ranked 11th overall with seven goals thus far, which has helped to earn Toews the nod in many circles.
Let’s face it, Toews has been a force throughout these playoffs.
That said, with zero points and just three shots on goal and a plus/minus rating of minus-2 through the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, Toews is (for the lack of a better term) “pulling a Crosby.”
Sure, Toews has had his moments in the series—including his 75.0 percent success rate on faceoffs in game one and 62.5 percent success rate in Game Two. But it’s not like Crosby was invisible in last year's Finals either—he contributed in other ways as well.
The fact is, unless Toews picks up his play he may very well get outclassed by Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi, who is now 2-0 in the series against the Flyers and a combined 14-4 with a 2.40 goals against average, .919 save percentage and two shutouts through 18 playoff games—impressive numbers to say the least!
For all intents and purposes we can call the Game One performance of Toews and Niemi a saw-off—they both stunk. Toews emerged with a plus/minus rating of minus-3 with Niemi giving up five goals on just 32 shots.
Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals was a totally different scenario, with Toews continuing to struggle and Niemi emerging as the game's first star—especially in the third period, where he made 15 saves against the swarming Flyers.
Since the 2000-01 season a total of three goaltenders have won the Conn Smythe Trophy: Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy, 2000-01, Anaheim Ducks netminder Jean-Sebastian Giguere, 2002-03, and Carolina Hurricanes crease beast Cam Ward, 2005-06.
Roy emerged from the playoffs with a 16-7 record, 1.70 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. Giguere posted a 15-6 record to go along with his 1.62 GAA and .945 Save percentage. Ward registered a 15-8 record with a 2.14 GAA and a .920 save percentage.
Clearly, while not quite as dominant as Roy, Giguere, or Ward, Niemi’s numbers (14-4 with a 2.40 goals against average and .919 save percentage) are right there when compared to Roy, Giguere, and Ward’s—he’s been “that good.”
Many Blackhawks fans bragged about shutting down three of the fiercest offenses in all of hockey when they defeated the Nashville Predators (18th ranked offense overall in the regular season), Vancouver Canucks (ranked second overall), and San Jose Sharks (ranked fourth overall) en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Clearly, Niemi was a huge factor in shutting those teams down, right?
For my money, Toews needs to pick up his play if he wants the Conn Smythe Trophy. Failure to do so makes Niemi a shoe-in—that is, as long as the Hawks can win the Stanley Cup; which, after taking the first two games, it appears they will.
Until next time,