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Posted: Friday January 9, 2009 6:05PM; Updated: Monday January 12, 2009 1:39AM

Roundtable: Our first half takes

Story Highlights

Our writers feel Alex Ovechkin deserves MVP on a vulnerable Capitals team

Bostron's David Krejci and Florida's David Booth bear watching in the stretch

Most stick by their preseason Cup final picks, but the Devils are on the map now

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While the Devils' Zach Parise (left) garners MVP consideration, goalie Jose Theodore could become the Capitals' Achilles heel.
AP's NHL writers will periodically discuss the latest news and address hot topics from around the league. This week: a look back at the first half of the season and a look forward to the stretch run.

1. Who is your mid-season MVP?

Michael Farber: Alex Ovechkin. He scores. He hits. He does everything but, like the carney barkers say, crawl on his belly like a reptile. While we have our shorts in a knot over the Bruins and Sharks, Capitals have quietly, it seems to me, been lurking. Ovechkin's crazy skills and infectious passion are the biggest reason.

Darren Eliot: Zach Parise has been consistent from the outset and given the Devils, according to head coach Brent Sutter, the type of season that was needed by his team.

Allan Muir: I gave serious thought to Parise. I don't think he's getting the acclaim he deserves for the magical season he's putting together. But as much as I wish I could give the nod to someone off the beaten path, how could it not be Ovechkin? Sure, his start was a bit sluggish, but over the last month he's approached every game like it's his only shot to defend last year's Hart Trophy. He's on pace to top last season's scoring totals, and Washington is winning despite dressing more Hershey Bears than Capitals most nights. Whatever your definition of MVP, you can't ignore team and personal success like that.

Jim Kelley: Ovechkin. I recognize the slow start and the early-season trip to Russia to visit his ailing grandfather is outside the norm in Old School hockey, but since his return he's been everything you could imagine in a superstar, leading his team, scoring seemingly at will and inventing an entire new fan base for the team in Washington. He's picked up 48 points in 31 games since his return and the Caps are the top team in the Southeast Division because of it. I'd give a nod to Tim Thomas in Boston and Joe Thornton in San Jose and I like some of these kid goalies in Florida and Columbus, but Ovechkin is just out front and pulling away.

2. The Sharks, Blackawks, Capitals and Bruins established themselves as contenders in the first half. Which of these teams (if any) is most likely to come back to the pack, and which team lurking in the weeds is primed for a second-half run?

Michael Farber: This might sound like a contradiction, but Washington might swoon. Of the elite teams in the East, its goaltending duo of José Théodore and Brent Johnson inspires the least confidence. Théodore was solid for Colorado down the stretch last year when he reclaimed his No. 1 job, but a Hart Trophy winner (2002) should not fade in and out like an AM radio station as you drive through the mountains. When the rust flakes off Mats Sundin, I expect Vancouver to make a little spurt. The Canucks could become the third-best club in the West, leapfrogging Chicago, but a healthy Roberto Luongo in goal -- don't you hate wonky groins? -- is more important to the Canucks than a point-per-game center.

Darren Eliot: I don't believe any of those teams will come back to the pack. They are all well-constructed, with the Sharks, Bruins and Capitals legitimate contenders. Two teams to watch in the second half are the Penguins and the Stars. Both currently sit outside the top eight in their respective conferences and I believe both will be in the postseason derby when April rolls around.

Allan Muir: I like all four to be in the hunt come April, but if one is going to stumble, it'll be the Caps. They've proven to be a resilient and deep organization, battling through such a ridiculous string of injuries that you have to believe someone on that team stole Jobu's rum. Still, success begins and ends between the pipes. Unless Théodore has used the Wayback Machine to switch places with the 2001-02 version of himself, the Caps are vulnerable in goal.

Darren's got a point about the Stars. How can they be as defensively inept as they were in the first half? But give me the Canucks. Not so much because Moses Sundin has arrived to lead them out of the desert of mediocrity, but because this will be a different, more confident team when Luongo returns. If nothing else, Luongo will make an impact in shootouts, where the Canucks have dropped five of six. And you can't overlook the cap space Mike Gillis has cleverly hoarded. If he can add a puck-moving defenseman to spruce up the power play -- maybe Tomas Kaberle would waive his NTC to join old buddy Mats -- the Canucks should grab home ice for at least the first round.

Jim Kelley: I see no major fall off in the big four. Chicago seems to still have depth problems and that scuttled them in the second half last season. I do suspect the Red Wings will be refocusing in the second half. Coach Mike Babcock is savvy and he hasn't pushed too hard in the first half, so as to not wear out a club that played until June en route to the Cup. However, the second half is a time for defensive commitment and the Wings are as good as it gets in regards to getting refocused. If there is a prime pick for a second-half run, and that's a big question mark right now, I would place long Vegas odds on Anaheim as I think their kids are getting better and their goaltending is solid.

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