The St. Louis Blues are closing in on the Presidents' Trophy and leaving a mark on the NHL record books in the process.
Brian Elliott's ninth shutout of the season on Tuesday night set a franchise record for longest shutout streak (183:33) and number of shutouts, passing Glenn Hall. His combined shutouts with Jaroslav Halak, 15, tied the NHL's post-expansion record held by the 1969-70 Chicago Blackhawks.
For this, Ken Hitchcock will be given the Jack Adams Award — with due respect to the jobs accomplished by Paul MacLean and the Ottawa Senators, Kevin Dineen and the Florida Panthers and Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators.
For this, Halak and Elliott will win the Jennings Trophy as the best goaltending tandem in the NHL — they have a combined 1.78 GAA right now, having allowed 139 goals. The Blues would need a total collapse not to set an NHL record for the best defensive team since expansion.
But neither Halak nor Elliott will win the Vezina. Not enough games played individually, and they'll siphon each other's votes. But if the NHL's postseason awards voters wanted another way to honor this remarkable, historic season by the St. Louis Blues defense, a suggestion:
Alex Pietrangelo for the Norris Trophy.
It helps that he's a damn good player, too.
Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch notes that Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk have combined to give the team one of only three 40-point defensive duos in the NHL this season. Said Shea Weber to Rutherford:
"Coming into the league, you don't know what to expect from them and now that we play against them six times a year, you get to know them a little bit. They see the ice very well, and ... they're able to create a lot of offense if they're getting over 40 points."
Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo each finished with 43 points last season, but 26 of Shattenkirk's points came with Colorado before St. Louis acquired him in February 2011. With each reaching the 40-point plateau this season, they became the first Blues' defensive pair since Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis in 2001-02 to accomplish it. That season, Pronger had 47 points and MacInnis 46.
One of the major differences between the two: Defensive assignments. Pietrangelo plays 3:09 TOI per game shorthanded, which puts him in the Top 20 for NHL defensemen; thing is, only two players above him on that list have more than 30 points as well (Filip Kuba and Kimmo Timonen).
Craig Custance (behind the ESPN paywall) looked at the Blues' awards options, and heard Hitchcock's case for Pietrangelo and the Norris:
"The thing that's relevant for him, if you're describing a defenseman, you're talking about a guy who collects points, plays against the other team's best players and kill penalties. That's what he does. He QBs the No. 1 unit on the power play, plays against the other teams' best players. He kills a minute-plus of every penalty kill. What more can you ask for? He does that. He's not protected. Nobody protects him. That's what he does. If you're looking for a legitimate defenseman, then to me, that's what this guy is. He's the word 'defenseman.' He's not an 'offenseman.' He's a complete player."
Not an "offenseman" … gee, wonder which player Hitchcock is comparing him to this season?
Erik Karlsson, whose 76 points and occasional defensive lapses have made him a contentious favorite for defenseman of the year, was put right into the conversation with Pietrangelo this week by Blues broadcaster Darren Pang on Twitter. Fleshing out his comments to the Ottawa Sun, Pang said:
"When GMs talk about Karlsson vs. Pietrangelo, the No. 1 (question) is: Who is better with the puck? Well, it's Karlsson, no question.
"The No. 2 question is: Who is better 5-on-5, defending going up against the other team's best players and playing on the power play? The answer is Pietrangelo. There is no denying the hand-eye co-ordination and the instincts of Karlsson. They're phenomenal and fun to watch.
"In a playoff series, Pietrangelo is going to play 25 minutes, he's going to play on the (penalty-killing units), the power play and against the other teams best players. So, there's quite a difference in the two players and what they bring to the table. They're both having phenomenal years."
True, but Karlsson's had more hype. So has Shea Weber, seen as the Norris winner in waiting. So has Zdeno Chara, who has inherited Nicklas Lidstrom's role as the annual nominee for the award no matter how he plays in comparison to previous seasons.
In the last USA Today power rankings, Pietrangelo was fifth in the voting behind Karlsson, Weber, Chara and Lidstrom. But now the St. Louis media has the hype machine cranking for him, and the Blues' success will certainly garner him even more attention.
Can Alex Pietrangelo make the Norris Trophy top three; and if so, can he win?