has gone on the record on numerous occasions, speaking at length about how he doesn’t care much for individual accolades, as long as he’s helping his team win games.
But perhaps what has been overshadowed in recent weeks amidst a successful stretch in which the Lightning have gone 10-4-2 in its past 16 games, is that the 22-year-old forward is providing Bolts fans with two races that are worth watching.
That Tampa Bay sits just six points behind the division-rival Panthers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is largely in part due to Stamkos’ exceptional offensive prowess that has him bidding to become the first player since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 to win both the Art Ross scoring title and Rocket Richard Trophy in the same season.
“His game has really evolved,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “He came into this season with that willingness to want more and more from himself, so that has really impressed me.”
Entering Friday, Stamkos led all NHL skaters in goals with 43, while his three-point effort in his team’s most recent game on Thursday night at Winnipeg vaulted him into a first-place tie for the league lead in points with Evgeni Malkin, whom Stamkos and the Lightning will face in an afternoon matinee on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
While the team's focus on Saturday will undoubtedly be on earning a key victory that could help re-establish its position back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture following a 4-3 setback at the hands of the Jets on Thursday, the head-to-head scoring race between the pair of 2012 NHL All-Stars will certainly be difficult to ignore.
Stamkos’ 43 goals are 10 more than Malkin’s, while each player’s league-best 73 points account for just three more than the next closest competitor in Philadelphia Flyers winger Claude Giroux.
Consider for a moment, though, that both the Lightning and Penguins have at times been without key performers due to injury, and the individual statistics put up by both Stamkos and Malkin seem even more impressive.
During the team’s most recent two-game stretch in which Vincent Lecavalier
was out of action due to a non-displaced hand fracture that has him sidelined indefinitely, Stamkos seamlessly stepped in and carried the load, putting together two separate three-point efforts for a total of six points.
Furthermore, when Martin St. Louis
was out of action for eight games to start the month of December, Stamkos registered 11 points in a stretch that also included four goals.
Stamkos and Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin head into Saturday tied for the league lead in points as Lightning prepare to take on Penguins.
It’s perhaps all part of the maturation process for the young 22-year-old Bolts forward, who this season has shown his on-ice leadership abilities even at times when a few of his veteran teammates weren’t out on the ice.
“I want to be that player that in both situations, whether up a goal or down a goal, is going to be out there,” Stamkos recently told The Tampa Tribune. “To be out there, knowing that the coaching staff and your teammates have the confidence in you to get the job done is something that helps grow your entire game.”
Malkin, meanwhile, in the absence of league superstar and teammate Sidney Crosby, is currently enjoying his best showing since the 2008-09 campaign, in which he took home the NHL scoring title after amassing 113 points. He even recorded his eighth career hat trick against the Lightning in a game played on Jan. 15 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
On Saturday, however, whether Stamkos and Malkin are looking to help their team earn a victory or merely collect their next piece of individual hardware, both players just might find they’ll have the chance to do both.