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Crosby, Malkin chase scoring title amid defense-minded league

| Wednesday, March 4, 2015, 9:51 p.m.
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The Penguins' Sidney Crosby (right) and Evgeni Malkin are tied for fifth in the NHL in scoring entering Wednesday's games with 64 points.

DENVER — The dead puck era is back.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will attempt to place their names atop the NHL scoring leaders, anyway.

However, their numbers won't be as gaudy as usual.

Top NHL scorers are dealing with an erosion of numbers. Crosby and Malkin, from a point per game standpoint, are having unimpressive seasons by their standards, but they remain in line to make a run at a scoring title.

“You follow it,” Crosby said. “There are a lot of possibilities with so many guys. I'm sure people will be talking about it. It will be hard to not follow it.”

It will be even more difficult for any particular player to gain separation.

Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom entered Wednesday's games tied atop the NHL scoring race with 67 points apiece. However, the Capitals have played three more games than the Penguins.

Crosby and Malkin are tied with 64 points. They are two of 18 players within 10 points of the scoring lead.

No NHL player is on pace to score 100 points this season. Malkin and Crosby are the league leaders in points per game, and should they play the remainder of the Penguins' games this season, both are on pace to register 86 points. No other NHL player projects higher — Ovechkin and Backstrom are on pace for 85 points apiece.

The last time an NHL player led the league in scoring with such a paltry point total was in 1963, when Detroit's Gordie Howe led the league with 86 points. This was during the Original Six era, when scoring was much lower around the league.

Why are the finest players in hockey seeing their numbers dwindle?

“I think it's because of how competitive the league is now,” Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. “Look around. There aren't many bad teams. Everyone is fighting for a playoff spot. So because of that, teams are playing playoff-style hockey even in October, trying to win games 1-0, 2-1. It makes it tough to score goals.”

The Penguins have been furious with officiating at times this season. NHL teams are on pace to enjoy the fewest power plays per game in league history this season. Further, the Penguins have received the fewest number of power plays per game in franchise history.

Crosby said the league simply has become more defensive-minded.

“It's partly because of that,” he said. “It's tough to score. There are five-man units out there. Goalies aren't getting any smaller. They're tall and athletic.”

Crosby produced 104 points last season. Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, finished a distant second with 87 points.

Malkin and Crosby have combined for four scoring titles (two apiece). All four of those Art Ross Trophies essentially were won by March, as the duo produced a number of scoring surges with which others couldn't keep pace. Crosby averaged 112 points in his two Art Ross Trophy seasons, one point more than Malkin's average in his two scoring title seasons.

Fifteen of the Penguins' final 20 games come against teams ranked in the NHL's lower third in goals against. Therefore, Crosby and Malkin have a chance to overtake the players ahead of them.

“We're all aware that they're in the scoring title mix,” right wing Patric Hornqvist said. “It's not something those guys talk about, but we know it and we want them to get it. We're going to do everything we can to help them win that scoring title.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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