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In the clutch: 12 NHL players who score the most important goals for their teams

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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As Kent Wilson pointed out this week on Puck Daddy, the NHL is constantly looking for "winners"; an intangible quality that turns the very good into the great and the potentially great into the unfulfilled potential by career's end.

Obviously, the greatest measure of being a "winner" is actually winning, and in the National Hockey League that means winning in the playoffs. It's the single most transformative process for a team or a player — like a director who won an Oscar, a player is forever known as a guy who "has a ring."

It's in the playoffs when we truly understand the mental mettle and the considerable drive of a player who thrives in the clutch. But the regular season also reveals its own clutch players as the months pass and the important goals add up.

Coming up, 12 of the most clutch players in the NHL based on our targeted metric of what "clutch" entails in the regular season. Who do you consider to be money in the first 82 games?

For the purposes of this ranking, we considered the following stats:

First goals. A personal favorite. These are the first goals scored in a game, setting the tone and establishing momentum.

Game-Winning Goals. A deceptive stat for sure, considering that the second goal in a 8-1 rout is a game-winner. But still an interesting indicator.

OT Goals. Winning a game in sudden death. Clutchity clutch clutch clutch.

Shootout Success. Yuck, skills competition. But these are the rules we play by, and if you're solid in the shootout then you're a clutch player.

Game-Deciding Shootout Goals. Either the player scored the final goal, or his goaltender made him look good.

Again, for this ranking, we wanted balance. Johan Franzen has 8 first goals and 10 game-winning goals, but Mike Babcock doesn't use him in the shootout. Doesn't mean he's not clutch; just means he doesn't fit this mold.

Stats are through Friday night's NHL games …

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Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

2 6 0 4-9, 44.4% 4

His four game-deciding goals lead the Bruins and put him second in the NHL. His six game-winners also lead the Bruins. Also money: He leads Boston in goals against their division foes (10).

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

7 4 0 3-7, 42.6% 2

Toews is among the NHL's best pace-setters, having scored seven first-goals last season as well. He's tied with Patrick Kane for the team lead in shootout goals, despite his time lost to injury.

Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

4 7 0 5-9, 55.6% 1

Daniel Sedin has more first-goals (6) and overtime goals (2), but Burrows has the advantage in game winners and leads the team in shootout goals. He's gone 4-for-4 in the shootout on the road, which is clutch. The guy you want out there when it's fingernail biting time. Or finger biting time.

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

3 2 2 4-4, 100% 1

His shootout goals rank right behind Jason Spezza (5) for the team lead, but he has two OT goals while Spezza has none. The creaky 'ole captain leads by example.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

6 3 2 2-4, 50% 0

While investigations are being made into what the hell is wrong with Alex Ovechkin this season, he's still a player that can set the tone and close out a game, as he did against the Tampa Bay Lightning last week at home.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

4 5 2 3-5, 60% 1

What, no Jagr? Well, we figure Jagr factored into a few of these, but Giroux's shootout prowess and overtime heroics are just two more factors in his being a Hart Trophy contender this season.

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Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

3 6 2 4-6, 66.7% 1

Gaborik's turnaround in the shootout is remarkable, having gone 1-for-6 in the previous two seasons. He's clutch there, and as you can see that goes for OT as well.

Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

7 5 2 4-9, 44.4% 0

The population of Pominville increased by two in overtime this season for the Sabres, but the captain's also been solid in the shootout and among the NHL's top players in first goals.

Steve Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

8 10 4 0-1, 0% 0

This is a bit of a cheat, seeing has how Stamkos doesn't dabble in the skills competition. But c'mon: Four OT game-winners, 10 game-winners overall and 8 first-goals, placing him fifth in the League. Money.

Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

7 3 2 5-10, 50% 1

OMG SO UNDERRATED! Eriksson's five shootout goals lead the Stars, as do his 10 shootout attempts, two OT goals and seven first goals. Jamie Benn has him beat in game winners and game deciders.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

5 8 1 8-11, 72.7% 6

Malkin's at the top of the Hart debate for a reason: He scores important goals, be it his overtime heroics or his game-winners. Now, let's see how things change with Sidney back …

Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils

1st

Goals

GWG OT

Goals

Shootout Game-Deciding

SO Goals

10 4 0 9-11, 81.8% 6

The top of the charts are rather close, and very Russian. Kovalchuk's 10 first-goals are tied for the League lead with Matt Moulson, and his shootout goals and deciding goals lead the NHL. The Hart talk is starting to warm up for him. But the guy above him is going to be tough to beat.

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