Claude Giroux and Evgeni Malkin – A Study of MVP Candidate Contrasts

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)

Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux. One-two in the scoring race; one-two in the race for the Hart Trophy at the all-star break.

With all due respect to other worthy candidates such as Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews and Henrik Lundqvist, Malkin and Giroux remain a cut above their competition. The two Atlantic division forwards are atop the NHL scoring charts despite missing a combined eleven games.

Both players have dealt with increased scoring responsibilities on their respective clubs. Malkin has taken up the Pittsburgh mantle of primary scoring threat due to the lingering injury troubles of Sidney Crosby, while Giroux became the Philadelphia Flyers’ top forward by default after the offseason trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Neither has shrunk from his new role; instead, both players have thrived.

At first glance, a direct comparison between the two presumptive favorites seems to favor Malkin.

The Penguins center leads Giroux in goals (26 to 18), points (58 to 55), and in points per game (1.38 to 1.25). Popular sentiment at the all-star festivities leaned towards Malkin as well. Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks, 3rd in scoring behind Giroux and Malkin, called the 25-year old Russian “right now the best player in the league,” according to Yahoo! Sports. Even Giroux’s teammate, fellow all-star Kimmo Timonen, conceded that Malkin was likely the class of the league right now.

But the usual statistics do not tell the entire story when it comes to Giroux and Malkin.

While both Giroux and Malkin tower over their teammates in scoring ability, the two MVP candidates’ respective roles could not be more different. Evgeni Malkin has been utilized as a pure scorer, as Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has gone out of his way to place his star in favorable situations to maximize his offensive output. On the other hand, Claude Giroux has received some of the toughest assignments of any Flyers forward in 2011-12, yet has still been able to put up raw scoring numbers comparable to those of Malkin.

Malkin is having a stellar season, but his production is being aided by favorable zone starts and weak competition. According to behindthenet.ca, Malkin has received 64.8% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone, leading all Penguins forwards in the category. In addition, the Pittsburgh coaching staff has shielded Malkin as much as possible from elite opponents. His Corsi Relative Quality of Competition (a measure of the puck possession ability of all even strength opponents) currently ranks 11th out of 12 Penguins forwards who have played at least 20 regular season games. Only Craig Adams has faced worse opponents from a Corsi (shots on-ice plus minus) standpoint.

On the other hand, Claude Giroux has received no such protection.

After moving elite two-way forwards Carter and Richards in the offseason, the Flyers hoped the quickly-improving Giroux would take the responsibility of consistently facing top competition while remaining productive. While scoring clearly has not been a problem for Giroux in 2011-12, neither has been the prospect of regularly matching up against the league’s best forwards and defensemen. The 24-year old leads all Philadelphia forwards in Corsi Rel QualComp, a far cry from Malkin’s sheltered shifts. In addition, Giroux has not received easy zone starts, starting 45.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone, trailing only Maxime Talbot and Sean Couturier in terms in terms of faceoff location difficulty among Flyers forwards.

Giroux also sees 2:27 shorthanded minutes per game, while Malkin receives an inconsequential 0:02 seconds per contest, adding a further degree of difficulty to Giroux’s overall ice time.

So Giroux is getting the far tougher minutes. But does that make him the slam dunk first-half Hart Trophy winner over Malkin?

Not quite.

His sheltered minutes notwithstanding, no player in the NHL this season (with the exception of teammate Crosby in his abbreviated stint) has exhibited a level of total offensive dominance approaching that of Malkin.

Malkin has averaged 3.37 points per 60 minutes of even strength play, leading the NHL. His 1.82 goals per 60 trail only noted sniper Steven Stamkos, and he ranks 9th in the NHL in primary assists per 60. Malkin’s possession metrics have been stratospheric as well. His 23.06 Corsi on-ice ranks third in the NHL, and would have placed Malkin first in the category in 2010-11.

Giroux’s possession metrics are less impressive. Considering his defensive zone starts and tough matchups, Giroux’s 1.91 on-ice Corsi is actually quite solid, but it still pales in comparison to Malkin’s pace.

Even after delving deeper into all available metrics, the Hart Trophy race between Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux remains as close as ever. However, the narrative of the competition could use some editing.

This is not a battle between one extremely efficient scorer, and one impressive yet slightly-less efficient scorer.

It’s a battle between an offensive juggernaut, taking full advantage of favorable situations to thoroughly dominate his opponents, and a top flight two-way center, who takes on the most difficult matchups while still scoring at an elite pace and pushing the play forward.

A little over two months of hockey remain. Let the best man win.

All statistics gathered from NHL.com and behindthenet.ca.

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