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Halfway home, and picking up steam

The 2007-08 NHL season hits the halfway mark this weekend, so it's a fine time to reflect on the season so far, and in particular some of the outstanding performances from a statistical point of view.
The individual goal-scoring race is going to be a doozy right down to the end of the season, as the main contenders at this point (Ilya Kovalchuk, Jarome Iginla and Alex Ovechkin) all put a ton of shots on net, and boast excellent, but not unbelievable shooting percentages.  By this I mean that while I can see Kovalchuk maintaining his 21% pace over the course of a career season, a guy like Mike Ribiero (who leads Dallas with 21 goals) isn't going to keep scoring on 36.8% of his shots.  All three of those top snipers should keep pushing each other night after night, making the Rocket Richard race a joy to watch for fans all around the league.
Since I've updated the Penalty Plus/Minus spreadsheet over at Google for the first time since the holidays, I can tell you that Sidney Crosby continues to lead the NHL having drawn 27 more penalties than he's committed, maintaining a healthy gap over L.A.'s Anze Kopitar who trails with a +22 rating.  At the bottom end of that scale Anaheim captain Chris Pronger has taken over the lead with a -21 mark, surpassing Toronto's Jeff Wozniewski's -20.  Outside of scoring an actual goal, drawing or committing a penalty is about the most significant event that impacts the outcome of a game, so Crosby's performance in this regard only adds to his MVP credentials, especially considering that another major candidate, Tampa Bay's Vinnie Lecavalier, comes in with a middling +4 rating.  Atlanta's Kovalchuk does boast a +13, best on the Thrashers squad, and Calgary's Iginla has a +7.
You want an unsung hero?  How about Mathieu Garon in Edmonton?  While his 10-9-1 record and .909 save percentage don't jump out and scream "All-Star", he's saved an outstanding 18 of 20 shots during the shootout, giving him a 6-0 mark in that event and earning the Oilers points in the standings that would otherwise have them lingering at the very bottom of the NHL standings.
On a team level, of course the Detroit Red Wings (30-8-3) are the runaway success story of the first half.  They're 2nd in Goals For per game (3.44 to Ottawa's 3.54), tops in Goals Against (2.10), and have enough cap space available to be considered part of the Peter Forsberg sweepstakes, should they require another Swede for the playoff drive.  Next thing you know, they'll be throwing pickled herring on the ice at Joe Louis Arena rather than octopus...
Detroit Red Wings new dietician
Apparently Forsberg has a few demands before joining the Red Wings
The Atlanta Thrashers (20-20-1) have recovered from the early season woes that cost Bob Hartley his job, and while they've gotten back to within arms-reach of the playoffs, they'll have a tough job beating out Philadelphia and Buffalo for postseason berths.  The Islanders, meanwhile, seem to have thrown the engine in reverse, having started the season by perhaps winning a few more games than they had a right to expect.  Now that the GF/GA ratio is slipping towards the dark side on a recurring basis, the Islanders appear to be foundering in a tightening Atlantic division.
As we head into the second half, the upcoming trade deadline will grab all the attention before the playoff races really get under way.  Which teams will throw in the towel and start planning for next year, and which ones will roll the figurative dice and load up for a shot at the Cup this spring?  No matter what happens, there are a number of interesting storylines to follow throughout the second half, and in NHL markets like Chicago, Boston, and St. Louis, a possible return to the playoffs has fans energized.  Columbus, which has yet to experience post-season action, also has a legitimate shot this year.  Even some of the cities that might not make the playoffs have reason for hope, either with newly competitive teams (like Phoenix), or individual stars who are worth the price of admission (as in Washington and Tampa).  In short, it's been an enjoyable season already, and things are only just starting to heat up.

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