The New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals are in the midst of a tight race among their Metropolitan Division brethren. While the New York Islanders currently hold the top spot, the Blueshirts, Caps, and Pittsburgh Penguins are all very much in the mix to win the Metro as well. While that race is very much a four-rival race, there are two men jockeying within the division to be the league’s top goal scorer, and it doesn’t appear that there will be anyone else joining them down the stretch.
In the red corner is Alexander Ovechkin. Ovie is no stranger to being in the hunt for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy (awarded to the NHL’s top goal scorer annually). He’s finished in the top spot the past two seasons, and has four Rocket Richard trophies on his mantle. After Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Russian superstar has 38 goals, good enough for tops in the league. Unlike last year, where Ovechkin took the goal scoring title with 51 goals but was a disaster defensively (-35), the Caps Captain is playing strong in both ends under new bench boss Barry Trotz (+13). Ovechkin’s high rate of production is having a trickle-down (or trickle sideways, to be more accurate) effect on his linemate Nicklas Backstrom, who currently is the league leader in total points with 64.
In the blue corner is Rick Nash. After a subpar 26-goal campaign in the 2013-14 season (and an even more disappointing offensive performance in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs), Nash has answered the bell in the 2014-15 season. Heading in to Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames, the Blueshirt’s winger has lit the lamp 37 times, and is on a path to become only the fourth Ranger ever to break the fifty goal barrier (Vic Hadfield, Adam Graves, and Jaromir Jagr being the others). Number 61 is also a top candidate for this year’s Hart Trophy (league’s most valuable player), because there is absolutely no way the Rangers would be competing for a top spot in the Metro without his high rate of production thus far.
Are there other possibilities to compete for the league’s goal scoring title, sure. Steve Stamkos (32 goals), Vladimir Tarasenko (31 goals), and Joe Pavelski (31 goals) are all north of thirty goals so far this season. Tyler Seguin would have also been in the mix, but the Panthers’ Dmitri Kulikov took him out of the running. While Pavelski is having a great year for the Sharks, I don’t see him staying in the race. Stamkos and Tarasenko both have top-notch scoring ability, and both are only one hot streak away from nipping at the heals of the top two contenders. But with the rate that Ovechkin and Nash are tallying goals (Ovie has scored nine times in twelve February games, Nash eight times in eleven February games), this is very much looking like a head-to-head race the rest of the way. It may not generate the excitement of the steroid-infused Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1997, but it will be fun to watch these guys go tit-for-tat during the last six weeks of the NHL’s regular season.