Assists carry Malkin into NHL scoring lead

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There they sit, at or near the top of the NHL scoring rankings.

Which is hardly a surprise, given that Sidney Crosby was the league points champion in 2006-07 and Evgeni Malkin was the runner-up last season, and they are playing for a team that, going into last night, was tied for second in the Eastern Conference in wins and points.

It's entirely possible the two Penguins centers will be in an Art Ross Trophy tug-of-war when April comes.

"Maybe," Malkin said with a smile yesterday after the team practiced at Mellon Arena. "It's [just] 15 games. It's not all season."

Through yesterday, Malkin led the league with 24 points. Crosby was tied for fourth with 19.

Something else defines the team's top two stats men this season. It's the way those points are coming -- heavy on the assists.

Malkin, with five goals, and Crosby, with four, have as few goals or fewer than the others among the NHL's top nine scorers. Only

four of the top 29 have fewer than four goals.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7:38 p.m., Mellon Arena
  • TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Biron for Flyers.
  • Penguins: Have won four in a row for the first time this season. ...Ranked second at home in penalty killing (28.6 percent) and third at home in power play (90 percent) through yesterday. ... Have gone to OT seven times, most in the NHL.
  • Flyers: Snapped three-game losing streak with 3-1 win Tuesday vs. Islanders. ...Are 4-1-1 vs. Atlantic Division. .. Are 4-1-2 when scoring first and 4-1-1 when leading after two periods.
  • Hidden stat: Through yesterday, Philadelphia was tied for NHL lead with six short-handed goals.

The slow -- by their standards -- goal production hasn't seemed to hurt the 9-4-2 Penguins going into their home game tonight against Philadelphia.

Still, Crosby and Malkin expect more from themselves.

"For sure, I'd like to score more," Crosby said. "I think the last, probably, four or five games I've had a lot more chances than I did earlier in the season, but I definitely want to score more."

Malkin, a third-year player from Russia whose English is still a little rough, expressed it more simply.

"I need more goals," he said.

Perhaps it was a start Tuesday, when each scored a goal in the Penguins' emotionally charged, 7-6 comeback victory in overtime at Detroit. The two combined for five points against the Red Wings, with Crosby getting two assists for a three-point night, and Malkin an assist for a two-point game to extend his point streak to 11 games.

"You can't expect that to happen every game," coach Michel Therrien said of the multiple-point nights.

"They've gotten chances. Players like this, it's about consistency. They've been consistent every game."

The two have been consistently hard on the Flyers, with Crosby racking up 16 goals, 37 points in 22 career games against the intrastate and Atlantic Division rivals, and Malkin bagging 10 goals, 24 points in 16 games.

Going into the game, Malkin is on pace for 131 points, which would be a career high by far, and 27 goals, six fewer than he had as a rookie in 2006-07.

"It's my fault. Every game is a couple of chances and I don't score," said Malkin, who has just one even-strength goal but is not letting his stomach get twisted over the imbalance between his league-leading 19 assists and his goals.

"The team plays good. I play OK. It's no pressure. Points are good for the team, good for me."

Crosby is on pace for 104 points, 22 goals. That's 32 points more but two goals fewer than he had last season, when he missed 28 games because of a high ankle sprain.

Compared with Malkin, he is much harder on himself.

"If I score one [Tuesday] night, I don't think about the one I scored; I think about three I didn't," Crosby said.

"If you want to be good at what you do, that's the way you have to think. For me, that's always been my focus -- more so on the stuff I didn't do than the stuff I did. I expect a lot out of myself.

"I pretty much remember every chance I get every game. I can pretty much look back at one game and already have it in my own head how I got my chances and what I could have done differently."

Crosby considers himself a natural playmaker, but doesn't want to be what he called "one-dimensional," and he and Malkin have been working to shoot more.

Crosby is averaging 3.7 shots a game, slightly more than the 3.3 he carried into the season. Malkin is at 3.8 a game, up from his career mark of 3.2 before 2008-09.

"If you work on good habits, I'm a big believer that after a while you're going to be rewarded for that," Crosby said.

NOTES -- Defenseman Rob Scuderi, who left Tuesday's game after taking a Nicklas Lidstrom slap shot off the outside of his left foot, did not practice. His foot is not broken, though, and, according to Therrien, Scuderi is day to day and probably will participate in the morning skate today. For insurance, rookie winger Paul Bissonnette reverted to his earlier position and practiced on defense. ... The Penguins' win was the fifth time this season a team has overcome a three-goal deficit to win in regulation or overtime, all five by road teams. They were on the sour end of that equation Oct. 16 in a 4-3 loss to Washington. There were just four such wins last season. ... Cable network Versus will televise a two-hour version of Tuesday's game at 2 p.m. Saturday. ... Defenseman Ryan Whitney, who is recovering from foot surgery, will drop the ceremonial first puck tomorrow when Robert Morris plays Ohio State in the College Hockey Showcase at Mellon Arena.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721.


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