There’s nothing better than having your hometown team at the top of the standings, which is exactly where the Detroit Red Wings are sitting this week.
Despite being without their top two goaltenders – Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson – of late, the Wings have risen to the top of the Atlantic Division, and are tied for first place in the Eastern Conference.
The team’s success, especially during its current six-game winning streak, is thanks in large part to the breakout season forward Tomas Tatar is having, which is why we turn our attention to the 24-year-old as the Wings’ MVP of the first half of the season.
Tatar got off to a slow start to begin the 2014-15 season, scoring just one goal in the first nine games. But the forward wasn’t deterred, and with a two-goal performance in a 5-2 victory over Nashville on Jan. 17, Tatar became the first Wing to reach 20 goals this season.
“I don’t know, I never really thought about it,” Tatar said at the time. “Obviously it’s a nice accomplishment. Hopefully keep shooting and keep scoring.”
The accomplishment marked the first time Tatar scored 20 goals in a single NHL season, and the sixth time in his professional career. He has already passed last year’s tally of 19 goals in 73 games.
“I’m not really thinking about it right now (reaching 20 goals), but obviously I’m happy I did it and hopefully I’ll keep scoring and help the team pick up wins,” Tatar said.
He has certainly done that. Through 48 games, Tatar leads the Wings with 21 goals (9th in the NHL), and ranks fourth with 34 points.
Tatar has also scored five game-winning goals, improving on his three last year, which ranks third in the NHL.
“He’s a very dangerous scorer,” said teammate Stephen Weiss. “He’s got a real good shot and he’s got a lot of energy. He’s a fun guy to be around, a fun guy to be around in practice. He practices hard and he works at it. He’s turned into quite the star.”
Tatar’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by the league, either.
On Jan. 19, Tatar was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week for his part in the Wings’ four-game winning streak from Jan. 13 through Jan. 18. During that time, Tatar scored five goals, including a game-winner against the Predators, and notched two assists.
His power-play goal against the Predators came when he batted Riley Sheahan’s pass out of mid-air past Marek Mazanec, who replaced Carter Hutton after Hutton allowed three goals on four shots.
“It was just a reaction,” Tatar said. “I cut to the middle and I saw puck coming in the air, just knock it in. It was more luck than anything else. I was just happy the puck went in.”
The puck has been going in the net for Tatar quite a bit this season, and if the second half is anything like the first, the 24-year-old could play a major role in helping the Red Wings reach the postseason for the 24th straight season.