NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 18:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on November 18, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Penguins defeated the Islanders 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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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.

Flames’ Bennett, Tkachuk accused of slew-footing in loss to Leafs

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The Calgary Flames dropped an ugly 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, not exactly rebounding from an embarrassing 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

Things were ugly in a different way toward the end, especially if you ask Maple Leafs fans, as Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk may or may not be guilty of “slew-footing” late in the contest. In each case, they¬†were whistled for roughing.

Bennett was guilty of the first incident on Connor Carrick:

Meanwhile, around the time of the final whistle, Tkachuk’s “roughing” of Martin Marincin drew quite a bit of ire. You can see for yourself in the video above the post’s headline.

More than a few people believe that Tkachuk will be on the Department of Player Safety’s radar thanks to this moment.

There’s no doubt that he’s been making waves as a pest – really, from his first game in the NHL – but some believe he went over the line this time. He’s second in the NHL with 92 penalty minutes, by the way.

Patrick Marleau’s magical third period secures Sharks win vs. Avalanche

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At 37 years old and nearing 500 career goals, there aren’t a ton of things Patrick Marleau has failed to accomplish.* Still, he did something he’s never done – and few players have managed to do – in the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.

The amusing thing is that it was a mundane night for Marleau and the Sharks heading into the third period.

They carried a 2-1 lead against the Avs before Marleau’s magical period really kicked into gear. In less than eight minutes of game time, Marleau managed an out-of-left-field natural hat trick:

He didn’t stop there, either, as he also hit the four-goal mark for the first time in his career … and again, it was in the same period.

That’s his first four-goal game (and period, naturally). It’s been a long, long time since someone enjoyed a period like Marleau did:

Speaking of history, this massive night indeed places Marleau close to another impressive feat. He’s now at 497 career goals, three away from the elusive 500 mark.

To underscore how unexpected this outburst was, consider this: Marleau generated zero goals and one assist in his previous seven games.

As the Sharks enjoy an era fueled by the ascent of Brent Burns and the passing of the torch from the likes of Marleau and Joe Thornton to a group including Logan Couture and Martin Jones, it seems fitting that Marleau – a player receding from the team’s spotlight – totally stole the spotlight on Monday.

The Sharks probably won’t complain, either. He helped them seal their fifth consecutive win, putting San Jose in a strong position to regain the lead in the Pacific Division.

Pretty good stuff from a guy who rapidly faded from relevance after being stripped of the Sharks captaincy.

* – How dare you make Stanley Cup jokes on a happy occasion for Sharks fans?

Capitals assert their dominance once again, this time clobbering Hurricanes

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammates after assisting Justin Williams #14 on a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Verizon Center on January 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals lead the league in standings points … and maybe in swagger. At least, it feels that way lately.

Monday presented their latest display of power as the Carolina Hurricanes had no answer for the Capitals machine. Washington clobbered Carolina by a score of 6-1, but at least the Hurricanes can take comfort in joining a rather large group of teams who’ve been humbled by Braden Holtby & Co.

This makes the Capitals 11-0-1 during a dominant run; they’ve scored at least a point in all but one game since Dec. 21.

Honestly, you can dice up their hot streak in a variety of ways, as Washington’s been outstanding since at least early December. Margin of victory might be the most jaw-dropping way to illustrate Washington’s dominant run:

Yep, that’s something else.

Dmitry Orlov was one of the standouts of this latest win, scoring two goals. His strong night and flashes of brilliance prompted Alex Ovechkin to … maybe go a little over the top.

Hey, when you’re on fire like the Capitals have been lately, it’s probably tough to make some pretty bold comparisons.

Things might be turning around for Lundqvist (not so much for the Kings)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13:  Marian Gaborik #12 of the Los Angeles Kings shakes hands with Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers after the Kings 3-2 double-overtime victory during Game Five of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As you likely know, the 2017 NHL All-Star Game is coming to Los Angeles this weekend. If the Kings don’t get it together, that might be the biggest hockey event for some time, as they’re currently on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Monday presented what felt like a story of one cold streak continuing to fade away while the other only seems to get icier.

The positive side: Henrik Lundqvist might just be working through that slump.

The New York Rangers beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for Lundqvist. He made 36 out of 38 stops, giving him a personal three-game winning streak in which he’s allowed just four total goals.

Some of those stops were pretty impressive, too:

(He also shut down a Jeff Carter breakaway, which is obviously no easy task.)

While Lundqvist is getting it together, the Kings might just be a little worried after dropping their fourth straight loss.

They’re at 48 points in 47 games, leaving them three points behind the West’s two wild card teams and two behind the Canucks.

The Kings have experience fighting through challenges like these, but they’ve also fallen short of getting into the West’s top eight, and their schedule is awfully road-heavy:

Tuesday: at Devils
Thursday: at Hurricanes
Tuesday, Jan. 31: at Coyotes
Wednesday, Feb. 1: vs. Avalanche
Saturday, Feb. 4: at Flyers
Sunday, Feb. 5: at Capitals
Tuesday, Feb. 7: at Lightning
Thursday, Feb. 9: at Panthers

Some of those opponents are struggling and the All-Star break might allow for a breather, but that could still be a problematic stretch, especially if the Kings are in a fragile state.

Then again, if they look at Lundqvist’s upward trend, they can note that fortunes can change pretty quickly in 2016-17.