Evgeni Malkin's return from injury has sparked his growing fan base, as the Pittsburgh Penguins forward has been propelled by fan balloting into a top-three spot among forwards in voting for the 2011 all-Star Game presented by Discover.
Malkin picked up 31,152 votes last week to vault past the Lightning's Steven Stamkos and into third place among forwards. The top three forwards, along with the top two defensemen and No. 1 goaltender will guarantee themselves spots in the 42-player pool for the Ultimate Fantasy Draft. New for this year's All-Star Game, the players will draft their own teams for this year's event, which will be hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Sidney Crosby continues to hold the top spot among forwards, as well as among all players, with 464,832 votes. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is No. 2 among forwards. Kris Letang of the Penguins and the Blackhawks' Duncan Keith lead all defensemen, and the Canadiens' Carey Price remains the top vote-getter among goaltenders.
Crosby, who ran his point-scoring streak to 21 games with a goal and 2 assists in Monday's 6-1 defeat of the Coyotes, increased his overall vote lead to 122,714 more than Letang. Crosby and Letang are two of four Penguins to rank in the top-10 overall in voting -- goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is sixth, and Malkin is eighth.
Malkin, who missed four games earlier this month with a knee injury, has 5 goals and 8 points in three games since returning, including a career-best 5-point night Monday against the Coyotes. Fans have noticed, pushing him within 34,567 votes of Toews for the No. 2 spot among forwards.
Stamkos, who scored his 100th NHL goal Monday, is just 4,171 votes behind Malkin, so another chance is a distinct possibility.
The Blackhawks' Patrick Kane is fifth, followed by the Canadiens' Michael Cammalleri, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, Flyers teammates Mike Richards and Claude Giroux, and the Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec.
With 196,886 votes, Giroux leads all write-in candidates at his position.
Letang picked up 48,534 votes last week to open the gap between him and Keith, the defending Norris Trophy winner. With 342,118 votes, Letang holds a 70,891-vote lead on Keith. However, Keith more than tripled his lead from on third-place Chris Pronger from last week. Keith now is 16,727 votes ahead of the veteran Philadelphia blueliner. And with Pronger on the shelf for at least a month while he recovers from surgery for a broken foot, that number is sure to increase.
Also with a chance to move up the ranks is the Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom, who sits fourth, 29,305 votes behind Keith.
The Flyers' Kimmo Timonen is fifth, followed by the Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook, Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban, the Kings' Drew Doughty, the Thrashers' Dustin Byfuglien and the Red Wings' Brian Rafalski.
Price has held the top spot at his position since the first round of fan voting was released, and nothing has changed this past week. Price, who leads the League with 18 wins, picked up 36,346 votes to remain third among all players. However, Fleury has carved into his lead, and with the 41,246 votes he received last week, now trails Price by just 27,006 votes -- down from the 31,906 he was behind last week.
Flyers rookie Sergei Bobrovsky trails Fleury by 32,602, is third, followed by the Bruins' Tim Thomas and the Blues' Jaroslav Halak.
Fan balloting runs through Jan. 3, 2011, at Vote.NHL.com.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com