Thursday, February 01, 2018

Penguins' Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin jump into NHL scoring race

By Jonathan Bombulie
January 31, 2018
Phil Kessel skates against the Minnesota Wild at PPG Paints Arena on January 25, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

A display in the hallway outside the Penguins locker room at PPG Paints Arena includes the name of every player who has ever won a major NHL award while playing for the team.
The list of winners of the Art Ross Trophy, given annually to the league's leading scorer, practically has its own wall.
From Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a Penguins player has won the award 15 times since 1988.
In a development that would have been unfathomable as recently as a month ago, it's entirely possible that list will grow by one at the end of this season.
Buoyed by the team's sizzling January form, Phil Kessel, Crosby and Malkin have suddenly stuck their noses into the NHL scoring race.
Kessel is third in the league with 59 points. Crosby, who is tied for eighth with 56 points, was the league's leading scorer in January. Malkin, who is tied for 11th with 55 points, is the league's top scorer since Dec. 1.
"Three of the best players in the world, all on one team, all on the same power play, you rack up points pretty quick," winger Ryan Reaves said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they finished 1-2-3 in the league."
Reaves brings up an interesting point. Because Kessel, Crosby and Malkin all play on the team's top power-play unit, they will probably pick up a similar number of special teams points.
What could separate the three and ultimately decide the winner of the team scoring race is their production at even strength. Because coach Mike Sullivan has each playing on his own line, it could set up a competition where each line over the boards tries to outdo the line before them.
"I would love to watch a little race," Reaves said. "I know (Malkin) and Phil would get into it for sure. I'd love to hear all that. Then Sid would probably just quietly creep past everybody."
Of the three, Kessel has the best chance at getting to the top of the list in the near future. Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov leads with 64 points, but he's in the middle of an eight-game goal drought. Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon is next with 61 points, but his status is unknown because of an upper-body injury.
While Kessel has been hot lately, recording 17 points in 12 January games, his calling card this season has been his consistency. The longest he has gone without recording a point is two games, and he did that just twice.
"He's been really consistent making plays," linemate Riley Sheahan said. "When the puck's on his stick, something good's going to happen. It's been huge for us."
Malkin, who won the Art Ross in 2009 and '12, has been the game's most dangerous goal scorer as of late, finding the net 11 times in his last 12 games.
With 26 goals, four behind league leader Alex Ovechkin, Malkin might have a better chance at claiming his first Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal scorer this season, but it wouldn't be wise to count him out of either race.
"He's done it before. Anytime you've done it before, you can do it again," linemate Carl Hagelin said. "He's a player who prides himself on being good offensively, and when he's rolling, he's rolling."
Then there's Crosby, who won the award in 2007 and '14. Written off in some corners after a slow December, Crosby piled up 20 points in 10 games in January.
"Oh, yeah. He could do it for sure," linemate Dominik Simon said. "That guy, when he turns it on, when it gets to the end of the season, he can do anything."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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