Let's begin with a high profile race: Alex Ovechkin chasing Evgeni Malkin. The two prodigious point producers finished 1-2 last season with Ovechkin taking the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer. He also garnered the Hart Trophy as the MVP and the Rocket Richard Award as the league's top goal scorer. The Richard is the one piece of the trifecta that is firmly in his grasp again this season. Ovechkin hasn't gone back-to-back games without a point since January 9, closing the gap on Malkin to two heading into the final week of the season.
In his pursuit of the scoring title, Ovechkin has an outside, um, shot at Phil Esposito's record total of 550 shots on goal, set in 1970-71. He's led the NHL in shots on goal in each of his four seasons and amassed a total of 507 so far in this campaign. Yes, it is a long shot (sorry), but consider that in Sunday's regular season home finale, Ovechkin offered up 24 attempts and put 11 of them on net. If he slings the puck with the same voracity over the Capitals' final three games and improves his accuracy, he could catch Esposito's amazing number.
Now, to the obscure we go:
There is the matter of players who haven't scored at all. Not surprisingly, the three contenders for playing the most without once experiencing the elation of a goal are all defensive defensemen.
Heading into the final week, Kings veteran Sean O'Donnell had yet to light the lamp in 78 games; Shane O'Brien of the Canucks remained goalless in 74 contests, and the Sharks' Doug Murray hadn't set off the siren in his 72 games-played. In fairness, all three are plus players and have been solid contributors on their respective bluelines, with O'Donnell still logging over 20 minutes a game, O'Brien providing toughness with 155 PIM, and Murray leading the Sharks in bodychecks delivered. He's been credited with 165 hits.
On a side note, when it comes to defensemen in need of hitting the score sheet, 47-year old Chris Chelios has yet to register a single point in his 25 games. Not that going pointless will alter the view of his remarkable career, what with three Stanley Cups, three Norris Trophies and his status as the only player in history to play more than 400 games for three separate teams, plus his taking the ice for more games than anyone who has ever played defense. No, his legacy is secure. It just seems wrong that his final line reads zeros across the board.
Speaking of zeros, they usually signify success for goaltenders. Case in point: rookie Steve Mason leads the NHL with 10 shutouts. He's being lauded as the Calder Trophy front-runner due in large part to his capacity for laying goose eggs on his opponents. On the other hand, Flames back-up goaltender Curtis McElhinney carries a zero as a burden. He's 0-6-1 this season playing behind workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff. In fairness, the former All-American out of Colorado College has only started five games all season, so his chances to get in the win column have been sporadic to say the least.
Still, after going 0-2 in his first NHL duty last year, a victory before the playoffs begin would certainly be sweet relief for McElhinney. The Flames have four games this week, including one in Vancouver against the team they are tied with atop the Northwest Division. McElhinney might get his last chance to secure a win over the weekend when the Flames play back-to-back against the provincial rival Oilers -- but only if the division is decided.
And finally, let's consider decisions of a different sort that of the NHL toughs.
It isn't getting the publicity of Ovechkin vs. Malkin, yet there is another repeat race going on at the other end of the profile spectrum. This battle is between Jared Boll and Zach Stortini.
Last year, Boll led all bare-knuckle brawlers with 27 fights, four more than runner-up Stortini. Heading into the last week of the season, Stortini has dropped the gloves 24 times, Boll 23. The two have fought each other only once and that was last season. The Oilers and Blue Jackets don't meet this week, so Stortini and Boll will have to find other willing combatants to settle the title as the NHL's most prolific pugilist of 2008-09.
So, while fans hold their collective breath in New York, Florida, Nashville, St. Louis and Anaheim as playoff hopes hang in the balance, know that there is drama in the detail -- right down to one seemingly random goal, assist, fight and win.