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Crosby ties McDavid in scoring race, is now on track to win it

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby missed the first six games of the season due to a concussion that he suffered in practice less than a week before the season began.

When he eventually made his 2016-17 debut on Oct. 25, he was already nine points behind the league’s leading scorer at the time, Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid.

As of Wednesday, the two are now tied for the top spot in the NHL.

With his 26th goal of the season — and 42nd point — in the second period of the Penguins’ 3-2 come-from-behind win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, Crosby was able to completely close the gap and catch up to McDavid in the scoring race. Not only has he caught him, but if the two players maintain their current scoring paces for the rest of the season Crosby would actually win the Art Ross Trophy by seven points.

In six fewer games.

Some numbers:

  • After Wednesday’s game Crosby’s point per game average sits at 1.35, a number that would give him 102 points over 76 games (the maximum Crosby can play this season).
  • McDavid’s current pace of 1.17 points over 82 games would give him around 95 points.
  • Just to make this a three-horse race, Evgeni Malkin, Crosby’s teammate, is currently one point behind McDavid and on pace for 90 points.

As recently as three weeks ago McDavid still had that nine point lead over Crosby, even after he had worked his way up to the No. 2 spot on the league’s leaderboard.

The Art Ross Trophy, even then, still seemed destined to belong to McDavid.

What makes Crosby’s ability to completely close the gap in less than two months so impressive is the rate that McDavid has continued to score at.

Since Crosby’s first game of the season on Oct. 25, McDavid has added 33 points to his season total in 30 games. That would still be a 90-point pace over 82 games. Keep in mind that only two players have topped 90 points in the NHL over the previous four seasons. He was still scoring at a pace that pretty much no other player in the league (other than Crosby) can score at right now.

But what is perhaps most fascinating about this current run by Crosby is that he is doing it almost entirely by scoring goals (his current assist rate of 0.51 per game is currently the worst of his career) and playing at a level that we really haven’t seen from him in more than three years. It is also a level that didn’t seem possible for him to reach again for a number of reasons. Specifically, the fact he is getting closer to age 30, as well the state of scoring in the NHL where nobody tops 100 points anymore, let alone 90.

When Crosby was at his peak between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 seasons (a stretch where he was limited to just 180 out of a possible 294 regular season games) he was scoring at a 49-goal and 120-point pace over 82 games.

In the three years that followed he was down to a 36-goal and 94-point pace over 82 games. That drop shouldn’t have been a huge shock because scorers typically score at their highest levels before they turn 27, and peak somewhere between 23 and 26. Even though he is not quite back to the numbers he was scoring at during his best years, he isn’t that far off, either.

His 26 goals after Wednesday’s game are seven more than any other player in the NHL and currently have him on pace to score 63 this season.

His career high is 50 (in 81 games).

You have to think that goal scoring pace will slow down a little bit as the season progresses (his 24.2 shooting percentage as of Wednesday is 10 points higher than his career average, and five points higher than his personal best in a single season — that is a ridiculous number to maintain over a full season, even for a player as great as Crosby).

But you also have to think those assist numbers can pick back up and balance out whatever goal scoring regression might come.

No matter how he is doing it, you should probably start to settle in for what is almost certain to be an incredible scoring race the rest of the way between the NHL’s two best players.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.