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Penguins’ Malkin, Crosby, Kessel on historic scoring pace | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Penguins’ Malkin, Crosby, Kessel on historic scoring pace

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, December 8, 2016 4:12 p.m
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin celebrate with Phil Kessel after Kessel's power-play goal against the Lightning during the first period of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday, May 24, 2016, in Tampa, Fla.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins Evgeni Malkin moves the puck against the Rangers in the third period Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 at PPG Paints Arena.

Going into Thursday night’s game against the Florida Panthers, three of the top five scorers in the NHL wore Penguins jerseys.

Evgeni Malkin was third in the league with 28 points. Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel were close behind, tied for fourth with 27.

That’s not terribly surprising. Crosby and Malkin have been two of the game’s most prolific centermen for more than a decade, and Kessel, one of the game’s elite shooters, has been a good fit in the team’s arsenal since he came aboard in a trade 18 months ago.

“They’re dynamic players,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “These guys are difference makers. They’ve consistently generated offense throughout the course of this young season. Some nights, they get rewarded for it, but most nights, those guys have been a threat for us. When they play like that, they make us better.”

Here’s a fact that might be a little more surprising, however. In the Crosby-Malkin era, the Penguins have never finished a season with three players in the top 10 in the league in scoring.

In fact, largely because of injuries to one or the other, Crosby and Malkin have both finished in the top 10 in scoring in the same season only once, when Malkin won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer with 113 points and Crosby finished third with 103 points in the Stanley Cup championship season of 2008-09.

The Penguins have had a couple of other players crack the top 10 in the past decade. Chris Kunitz, playing on a line with Crosby, was seventh in 2012-13, but Malkin missed 17 games with a concussion and a shoulder injury. James Neal, playing on a line with Malkin, was seventh the year before that, but Crosby played only 22 games due to concussion.

This season, with Crosby, Malkin and Kessel all reasonably healthy and operating at or near their peak performance levels, the Penguins have as balanced an offensive attack as they’ve had in years.

“I think it’s good when the puck’s going in and you’re able to get some momentum and win some games,” Crosby said. “Ultimately, it’s about winning hockey games. If we’re able to produce, it gives us a better chance to do that.”

While the Penguins haven’t placed three scorers in the league’s top 10 in the same season in the Crosby-Malkin era, it has happened five times in team history. After all, Penguins players have won the Art Ross 15 times since 1988. It was bound to happen at one time or another.

The first instance came when Pierre Larouche, Jean Pronovost and Syl Apps combined for 314 points in 1975-76.

Paul Coffey is the only defenseman in Penguins history to have a top-10 scoring season. He, Mario Lemieux and Rob Brown finished in the top 10 in 1988-89.

In the mid-1990s, the same trio of Penguins — Lemieux, Ron Francis and Jaromir Jagr — finished in the top 10 in back-to-back seasons.

Finally, Jagr, Martin Straka and Alexei Kovalev all finished in the top 10 in 1996-97.

Is it reasonable to suggest Crosby, Malkin and Kessel will join the illustrious list come April?

Crosby is scoring more goals than he usually does, and Kessel is setting more up, but in general, all three are within the margin of error for their career scoring averages. Health figures to be the biggest hurdle.

“We’ve been opportunistic,” Crosby said. “We’ve taken advantage of our chances. It’s one of those things where the puck’s going in for you. When that’s the case, everyone’s feeling good. You try to keep shooting the puck and kind of ride it as long as you can.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review NHL/Penguins reporter. You can contact Jonathan via Twitter .

Categories: Penguins
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