Teams around the NHL have started hitting the 20-game mark, with most of the league reaching that milestone over the next few days.
That means that this is the week when we’re officially a quarter of the way into the season.
And that means three things.
First, we can stop prefacing every observation with “It’s still early, but…”
Second, it will be fun to spend the next few days making repeated references to this being the "quarter pole" just to annoy the sort of pedants who get worked up over that that kind of thing.
And third, sports writing bylaws dictate that we have to hand out some awards.
Let's take care of that last one today. We'll do the standard NHL awards, plus a few more to keep it interesting.
And we'll start with the big one.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
MVP awards are always fun because we get to argue over what "value" actually means.
Is it just the best player? The guy who's most important to his team? The player with the biggest impact on the standings? Luckily, through the first quarter this year, we can go with all of the above.
But the winner is… Carey Price.
The Montreal Canadiens seem like two different teams these days. There's the non-Price version, which is fine – they're 3-3-1 in games that Al Montoya starts, and other than that one disaster in Columbus, they've been competitive in all of them. The Montoya version of the Habs is OK.
But the Carey Price version is darn near unbeatable, picking up 23 of a possible 24 points in his dozen starts.
His numbers are ridiculous – his .950 save percentage is the best among full-time starters – and he hasn't shown any signs of lingering problems from last year's injury.
Mix in his dominant performance at the World Cup of Hockey, and he's entering that Dominik Hasek zone where teams feel like they'll need a shutout from their own goalie just to have a chance.
Hart voters tend to like to cast their ballots for players who put up big scoring numbers. But anyone who can single-handedly transform a team from merely mediocre to Cup favorite is an easy MVP call, so Price gets the nod here.
It goes without saying that if Price wins MVP, he'll almost certainly also take home the Vezina, too.
But for sake of argument — and to avoid just writing the same thing two sections in a row — let's pretend that he has to make room for somebody else to take the goaltending honours.
But the winner is… Tuukka Rask.
This one's a much closer call, and you could make a case for any of the guys listed above and probably a few more.
But Rask is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, and he's doing it on a team that most of us didn't view as anything more than an also-ran. Maybe that's all the Boston Bruins are, and Rask is just papering over a flawed lineup. But that's what you want your star goalie to do, and Rask has been up to the task so far this year.