105667111 Penguins vs. Lightning Preview

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(AP) — Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos took the NHL goal race to the final day of last season, and the two settled for sharing the Rocket Richard Trophy by finishing with 51 apiece.

Three weeks into this season, the former No. 1 overall picks look capable of engaging in another race to the finish.

Stamkos is tied for the league lead with eight goals as he’s gotten the Tampa Bay Lightning off to a fast start, and Crosby is close behind after scoring five times in four games with the Pittsburgh Penguins set to visit the St. Pete Times Forum on Wednesday night.

Crosby had a Stanley Cup, Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy as league MVP to his credit heading into last season, when he enjoyed his best goal-scoring season since entering the league in 2005-06.

Stamkos, on the other hand, had only experienced an up-and-down rookie season in which he scored 23 goals.

After matching each other with 51 goals – one more than Washington’s Alex Ovechkin – the two seem intent on topping those totals in 2010-11.

More significant than appearing at the top of the scoring charts – Stamkos leads the league with 15 points, while Crosby has 11 – is that both players’ teams look formidable early. That’s particularly impressive in the case of the Lightning (5-2-1), who are atop the Southeast Division after finishing 41 points behind Washington last season.

They’ve been perhaps a bit too reliant on Stamkos, however. Tampa Bay is 5-0-0 when he scores, but fell to 0-2-1 when he doesn’t with a 4-3 loss to visiting Nashville on Sunday.

The Lightning were down 4-1 in the third period before scoring a pair of late goals.

“I don’t think (our effort) was that great until the third, and then it was a little too late,” said Stamkos, who was shaken up on a third-period hit but said he was OK. “We’ve got to start games quicker.”

Pittsburgh (5-3-1) had won four straight entering Saturday’s game at St. Louis, and Crosby was the key. He registered five goals and four assists in those victories, but was held off the scoresheet against the Blues.

He wasn’t the only one. Erik Johnson’s overtime goal spoiled another fine effort from backup Brent Johnson, who made 23 saves in the Penguins’ 1-0 loss.

“Both teams had their fair share of chances,” Crosby said. “Unfortunately for us, they got the winner in overtime.”

Johnson has a 1.39 goals-against average that’s among the best in the league, while Marc-Andre Fleury has a 3.25 GAA in four starts.

Fleury, however, has been better lately versus Tampa Bay. He’s 7-3-0 with a 1.90 GAA in his last 10 starts in the series, and was in net each time as the teams split four meetings last season.

Each team totaled only seven goals in those games, with Stamkos recording two goals and three assists.

None of Crosby’s 51 goals last season came against the Lightning. He has two goals in his last 11 games and 16 points in 18 games overall in the series, making the Lightning one of two Eastern Conference teams that Crosby has failed to average a point against in his career.

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