Evgeni Malkin fell just short in the NHL scoring race last season, losing by six points. Heading into the final weeks of 2008-09, it's clear he's the one that's going to be tough to catch this time.
Malkin had two goals and three assists and Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to 11 games with two assists Tuesday to lead the Penguins (38-26-8) to a 6-2 home win over Atlanta.
Malkin's first goal gave him 100 points for the second straight season. His 102 points are tops in the league - nine ahead of Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who beat Malkin by six for last season's scoring title.
Crosby, for his part, has shown he can't be counted out of the race. The 2006-07 scoring champ has six goals and 14 assists in his last 11 games to give him 92 points on the season. He has six goals and 14 assists during an 11-game point streak, and recorded three assists Sunday in a 6-4 victory over Boston.
"You get nights like tonight from Malkin, and you get the previous game from Crosby," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after beating the Thrashers. "It's a luxury I have from our standpoint."
The Penguins are 11-1-2 since Feb. 19, averaging 3.9 goals in that span, to move into a tie with Philadelphia for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Malkin, who had been battling a flu bug, had been held without a point in his previous two games before Tuesday.
"He played great tonight, and it's fun to see that," Crosby said. "When he's playing well, everything he touches, he makes something happen. That's a good feeling, and that's a good sign for us when he's going like that."
The Penguins killed all seven of Atlanta's man-advantage opportunities Tuesday, and have allowed only one power-play goal in the last 27 chances.
"We had great power plays," Malkin said. "Everybody played hard and we were good with our puck control. That makes it easy to get points when the power play is good."
The Kings (30-30-10), meanwhile, snapped a three-game losing streak Thursday in Boston by beating the East-leading Bruins 3-2 in overtime. Los Angeles had two goals in the third period, including Drew Doughty's game-tying tally with 1:36 remaining in regulation.
Dustin Brown scored the game-winner with 34 seconds left in the extra session.
The win snapped a six-game road losing streak for Los Angeles, which began a stretch of six straight games away from home and nine of its final 12.
"To start this off with a win in Boston," Los Angeles coach Terry Murray said, "was very important to have that kind of feeling and build some momentum here at the start for the rest of the trip."
Malkin had two goals and an assist the last time these teams met, a 4-2 home win for Pittsburgh on Feb. 9, 2008.