1. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
A couple of things stand out for us when it comes to the likable Detroit netminder. First, he leads the NHL in the one stat that trumps all others: wins. But beyond his 20 victories, Howard has been one of the busiest goalies in the league, ranking third in minutes played and 10th in shots against. In short, Howard has been a rock for the Wings, especially when they were struggling to find their offensive game, holding the fort with a 1.91 GAA fifth-best in the league.
“He’s been our best player for sure,” Detroit head coach Mike Babcock told ESPN.com during the Wings’ pre-Christmas western road trip.
The Wings, 12-3-0 in their past 15 games, are three points back of Chicago for the Central Division and Western Conference leads, and the rapidly maturing Howard is a big part of the team’s success.
“We’re playing him a lot. We’re riding him, but he’s young,” said Babcock, joking that Howard, 27, has plenty of time to rest later.
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