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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.

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.