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Will Sidney Crosby win another scoring title in his career?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby is one of the most accomplished players in NHL history with a resume that is pretty much unmatched by, well … anyone.

He has already won three Stanley Cups, three Ted Lindsay Awards, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two MVP awards, two goal-scoring crowns, and two scoring titles.

The only players in league history to win at least two Stanley Cups, MVPs, scoring titles, and goal-scoring crowns includes only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Phil Esposito, Gordie Howe, and Crosby. That’s it.

Had it not been for injuries during the prime of his career that individual collection of trophies would probably be significant larger, especially when it comes to the scoring titles.

For the five-year stretch between 2010-11 and 2014-15 Crosby finished as the league leader in points per game every single season (and by a ridiculously large margin each year) but only managed to win one scoring title during that stretch, almost entirely because he appeared in just 256 out of a possible 376 regular season games (only 68 percent of the team’s games).

It is not out of the question to think injuries robbed him of at least two more Art Ross Trophies. Maybe more.

Given that Crosby just celebrated his 31st birthday earlier this month it is worth asking a very simple question: Will he ever win another scoring title in the NHL?

History is not on his side in that discussion.

First, let’s just look at Crosby’s recent performance. Over the past four years he has been pretty consistent in his production, averaging around 89 points per 82 games played, a stretch that has seen him finish third, third, second, and, most recently, 10th in the overall scoring race, while also being first, third, second, and 12th in points per game.

In other words, he has been close to the top spot. Very close. He has also been one of the best and most productive players in the league even if his level of production has dropped off a bit from where it was when he was in his early-to-mid 20s (which should not be a surprise — players score at their peak levels before age 26).

[’17-18 review | Under Pressure: Johnson | Breakthrough: Oleksiak | 3 Questions]

The two factors working against him when it comes to winning another Art Ross Trophy are, 1) the fact that Connor McDavid has emerged as the dominant offensive player in the NHL and probably hasn’t even entered his peak years yet, and 2) the Art Ross Trophy is historically won by younger players, like McDavid currently is.

As mentioned above, Crosby is now entering his age 31 season, and while that’s not quite over-the-hill for an elite, all-time great player, it’s still an age where leading the league in scoring is almost unheard of. In the history of the league there have only been 11 players that have finished as the league’s leading scorer at age 31 or older.

Here is the list (Update: We initially forgot about Mario Lemieux’s scoring title in 1996-97. It has been added).

Only four of them happened in the post Original Six era, while only three of those happened in an 82-game season. Martin St. Louis won his in a lockout shortened 48-game campaign, and had it not been for Crosby missing 11 games that year he probably would have won it himself.

Six of them happened before 1950, with four of those happening before 1934.

Among the NHL’s most prolific scoring champions…

  • Wayne Gretzky only won one of his 11 scoring titles after his 31st birthday, and only had two other top-five finishes.
  • Only one of Gordie Howe’s six scoring titles came after turning 31.
  • All five of Jaromir Jagr’s came before turning 30, with his last one coming at age 28. He finished in the top-10 just twice after age 30, with only one top-five finish.
  • Guy Lafleur never won a scoring title after age 26.
  • Phil Esposito won four of his five before turning 31 (his fifth came in his age 31 season). After turning 31 he had one top-10 finish in seven years.
  • The last of Stan Mikita’s four scoring titles came at age 27, while his Blackhawks teammate Bobby Hull won all three of his before turning 28.

Assuming he stays healthy he is still going to be one of the most productive players in the league for the foreseeable future. But history seems to suggest that he may have already won his last scoring title. Even winning two of them puts him in exclusive company, but it still seems amazing he may not win another given how dominant he has been in the NHL.

Even with everything he has accomplished, Crosby’s career still presents one of the NHL’s greatest “what if” questions when it comes to what he could have done with better health during his prime years.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: First place Coyotes; Zuccarello leads Wild to another win

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Three Stars

1. Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. After a pretty miserable start to the season the Wild are starting to get back on track and picked up their fifth win in a row on Thursday by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4. Zuccarello was the big star for the Wild with three points (his first three-point game of the season) including the game-winner in the third period. His goal came just eight seconds after Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn had tied the game. Things looked bleak for the Wild’s playoff chances in the first month of the season, but their win on Thursday moved them — at least temporarily — into the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

2. Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes. And which team sits on top of the Pacific Division after Thursday’s action? It is none other than the Arizona Coyotes thanks to their 3-1 win in Philadelphia. They have been road warriors this season and now own a 10-3-3 record over their first 16 away games. They used a two-goal effort from Kessel — as well as another great goaltending performance — on Thursday to get their latest win. Kessel has yet to make the big offensive impact the Coyotes were hoping for this season, but he tends to score goals in bunches and maybe this is the start of one of those runs. Arizona is back in action on Friday when Kessel makes his first return to Pittsburgh since the Penguins traded him over the summer.

3. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin scored the game-winning goal in his return to Columbus, but the biggest difference maker for the Rangers in their 3-2 win was their goalie. Georgiev was sensational, stopping 45 out of 47 shots in helping to steal one for the blue shirts. Read all about that game here.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Petr Mrazek had an eventful night for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. He stopped a lot of shots, picked up a shootout win, and got punched in the face. Read all about it here.
  • Joe Pavelski scored the overtime winner for the Dallas Stars in their 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks let a 3-0 third period lead slip away in Boston against the Bruins, but Jonathan Toews bailed them out in overtime with the game-winning goal.
  • Milan Lucic was finally able to get his first goal of the season for the Calgary Flames. It turned out to be the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Matt Calvert had a goal and an assist for the Colorado Avalanche in their 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

The Wild looked like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Lightning looked like the Washington Generals on this Jason Zucker goal.

The Colorado Avalanche have their top line back together, and Gabriel Landeskog wasted no time in making an impact in his return to the lineup.

Maybe this is the shot that gets Johnny Gaudreau rolling for the Calgary Flames.

Blooper of the Night

Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk accidentally hip-checked a referee in their 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Factoids

  • It was a highly competitive night around the league with eight of the nine games being decided by a single goal, including four overtime games. The only game decided by more than one goal was Arizona’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia, and even that was a one-goal game until a late empty-net goal from Kessel. [NHL PR]
  • Thanks to Ryan Pulock‘s overtime goal the New York Islanders extended their point streak on home ice to 12 games. [NHL PR]
  • Jonathan Toews’ overtime goal in Boston was the 14th of his career in the regular season, moving him into a tie for 10th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Boston Bruins 3 (OT)
Colorado Avalanche 3, Montreal Canadiens 2
Minnesota Wild 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 4
New York Islanders 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Carolina Hurricanes 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Dallas Stars 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT)
Calgary Flames 4, Buffalo Sabres 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Mrazek gets punched in mask by Thornton; leads Hurricanes to win

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It was an eventful night for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek.

When it comes to the important stuff — stopping pucks to prevent goals and get a win — he was about as good as he could have possibly been by turning aside 28 out of 30 shots throughout regulation and overtime, as well as all three shots he faced in a shootout, to help lift his team to a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks and bust out of a mini-slump that had seen them lose three of their previous four.

He also had a run-in with Sharks forward Joe Thornton that saw him get punched squarely in the mask.

It all started mid-way through the second period when Thornton attempted to jab at the puck that Mrazek had covered in the crease. Mrazek, taking exception to that jab, then chased after Thornton, swung his stick at the back of Thornton’s leg, stood up to get in his face … then got punched.

There were penalties handed out here, with Thornton getting two minutes each for roughing and slashing, while Mrazek was given a two-minute minor for slashing.

Mrazek was asked after the game if it is tough getting back into the game and maintaining focus after a scrum like that, and he was quick to say that’s actually better for him because it makes him feel like he is in the game.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Panarin scores in return to Columbus, helps Rangers steal one

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Artemi Panarin was back in Columbus on Thursday night for the first time since leaving the Blue Jackets to join the New York Rangers in free agency this past summer.

After hearing some early boos from the local crowd, Panarin ended up getting the last laugh and was the difference maker by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period of the Rangers’ 3-2 win.

Panarin was the Blue Jackets’ best player for two years and one of the biggest reasons they made the playoffs both years, finally winning their first playoff series a year ago when they upset the heavily favorite Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1.

This is the video tribute the Blue Jackets had prepared for Panarin on Thursday.

So far his time with the Rangers has been everything the team’s management could have hoped for, and with his goal on Thursday is now up to 13 goals and 34 points on the season in his first 27 games.

What has to be especially frustrating for the Blue Jackets in this one isn’t just the fact that Panarin came back to haunt them by scoring the game-winning goal, but they were probably the better team in this game and played well enough to win. They ended up dominating the pace of the game and outshot the Rangers by a 47-19 margin and spent the entire night taking up residence in the Rangers’ end of the rink.

The problem was Alexander Georgiev was a rock in the Rangers’ net.

They also gave up a crushing goal to Brendan Lemieux in the closing seconds of the first period, erasing what had been a 1-0 lead and squandering what was a tremendous start to the game.

The win allowed the Rangers to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race and leaves them just three points back of a Wild Card spot.

The Blue Jackets fall to 11-13-4 and are already eight points back.

Related: Rangers’ Panarin returns to Columbus the way he left: as a superstar

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Canadiens’ Kotkaniemi leaves game after scary fall (Video)

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Scary scene in Montreal on Thursday night during the first period of the Canadiens’ game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Second-year forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi had to leave the game after an ugly fall that resulted in him hitting his head off the ice. He remained on the ice for a few moments before being helped off the ice by teammates with his head slumped over.

The Canadiens announced that he was out for the remainder of the game due to an “upper-body injury.”

You can see the sequence in the video above.

It all happened after Kotkaniemi was pinned against the boards by Nikita Zadorov, and then fell backwards. There are a lot of problems with Zadorov’s hit, including the fact it looked to be very late (the puck was long gone from Kotkaniemi when Zadorov initiated the hit) as well as the fact he appeared to lift his right leg and swing into the back of Kotkaniemi’s, knocking him backwards. That doesn’t really qualify as a slew-foot, but everything about the play itself seemed unnecessary.

There was no penalty called on the play.

The Canadiens are already playing without two key forwards in Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.