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.
- 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.