Crosby regains goal lead, tied for points lead after hat trick

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PITTSBURGH — With his three goals in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday afternoon Sidney Crosby became the first player in the NHL to hit the 40-goal mark this season.

It also put him back into sole possession of first place in the NHL’s goal scoring race (now three goals ahead of Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand) and moved him back into a tie with Connor McDavid for the points lead with 80. Because Crosby has more goals than McDavid (15 more to be exact, and in seven fewer games) Crosby would also be the Art Ross Trophy winner if the season ended today. It is only the second time Crosby has topped the 40-goal mark in his career, while he has a legitimate shot to win his second goal scoring crown and his third Art Ross Trophy.

The fact he is in a position to potentially lead the league in both categories is pretty incredible when you consider that it has only been done three times since 1990 (Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08, Jarome Iginla in 2001-02 and Mario Lemieux in 1995-96), and Crosby is currently doing it having missed six games this season due to injury.

Given the way he and his line are rolling right now it probably wouldn’t be wise to bet against him doing it.

With the Penguins’ lineup crushed by injuries at the moment (Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Olli Maatta and Bryan Rust all missed Sunday’s game) the line of Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary has been carrying the offense in recent weeks as they have now won seven of their past nine games (7-1-1) since March 3.

After Sunday’s game Mike Sullivan understatedly pointed out that “Sid is the glue that holds that line together” and that they have “played great for us.”

Just how great have they been?

Well, as a group that line has combined to score at least two goals in four of the Penguins’ past five games, accounting for nine of the team’s 14 even-strength goals during that stretch.

All three of them have contributed all three points (the goal and both assists) on seven of those goals. Even when they are not putting the puck in the net they just have the look of an unstoppable force right now and are creating multiple chances on almost every shift.

Sheary has been a fit on Crosby’s wing for most of the season, but the addition of Guentzel, who said on Sunday that he is just trying to make the most of his opportunity on that line, has taken it to an entirely new level.

Their speed, immediate chemistry and ability to get on the puck and create havoc for opposing defenses is pretty much unmatched anywhere else in the NHL right now.

For most of Crosby’s career there’s always been this never-ending question of as to his wingers are going to be. Right now, that question seems to have a pretty definitive answer.