It wasn't all that long ago that Pittsburgh was about as far from a top hockey market as you could get. The way the current team is playing -- and the way its fans have come out in droves, including a 182-game sellout streak -- has made it one of the top markets in the League now.
That ever-growing fan base has been stuffing ballot box for the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover, propelling four Penguins into the top 10 in overall voting.
Sidney Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer, also is the League's leading vote-getter. His 410,754 votes so far have lapped the field -- no other player has more than 300,000 votes.
Second on the list is Crosby's teammate, defenseman Kris Letang, with 293,584. For the second week in a row, Letang has ranked second on the list, thanks to his League-leading 59,479 text votes.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ranks eighth with 218,350 votes, and forward Evgeni Malkin has risen to 10th with 211,699 votes.
Since Crosby's arrival in 2005, the Penguins' fan base has grown, but so has their on-ice success. They've made the playoffs four straight seasons, advanced to a pair of Stanley Cup Finals and won the Cup in 2009. They'll play in their second Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2011, and are the co-headliners of the HBO mini-series, "24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic."
They go into Tuesday's game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Philadelphia Flyers winners of 12 straight and atop the League standings. Crosby also has an 18-game scoring streak that and leads the League with 26 goals and 51 points.
"It means a lot, and we certainly all appreciate (the support)," Crosby said prior to Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. "It's a great example of the support we get and the great fans we get. I think it's a clear indication, along with a lot of others, including the fact we've been sold out for how many games in a row now. Even outside of Pittsburgh, we go on the road and we see a lot of Pittsburgh fans, too. We're pretty fortunate."
Fleury's All-Star standing has risen with the Pens' recent hot play. After an awful start that saw him temporarily lose his starting job to Brent Johnson, Fleury has completely righted his game -- he hasn't lost in regulation since Nov. 5 and carries a personal 11-game win streak into Tuesday's game.
He's steadily moved up the rankings, this week garnering 66,086 votes to move past Flyers rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and into second place behind the Canadiens' Carey Price for the lead at his position. Fleury trails Price by just 31,906 votes.
Letang picked up 82,777 votes this past week, powered by 14,527 text votes, to remain second to Crosby in the overall race and in the top spot among all defensemen.
Letang certainly is worthy of the votes -- no defenseman in the League has more than his 21 assists, and he's tied for second in scoring with 26 points. Letang is doing it while averaging 23:01 of ice time per game, a career-best and about 90 seconds more per game than last season.
"It's great," Letang said. "I mean, you see that we have a good base of fans in Pittsburgh and in the NHL. There are a lot of people that take the time to vote and it's an amazing thing. I want to thank them for that, for supporting me."
Malkin has received his support despite having a so-so season -- 8 goals and 22 points in 26 games, low by his lofty standards -- and he missed the last four games with a knee injury before returning on Tuesday. He still received 52,580 votes this past week, vaulting him past the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin for fourth place among forwards. He's now just 7,391 votes behind Steven Stamkos of the Lightning for the third spot among forwards. The top three vote-getters at the position earn an automatic spot in the 42-player pool for the All-Star Ultimate Fantasy Draft.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org