Can Crosby climb into the Art Ross race?

The Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby participates in the

The Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby participates in the "morning skate" in preparation for his return to action Monday night against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 21, 2011. (REUTERS/David DeNoma)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:27 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - The question was put to Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

After a four-point return Monday night, having spent almost 11 months away from the game, could Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby win the NHL scoring title this season?

"What's the race at right now?" Byslma asked from the podium at the Consol Energy Center.

Told Crosby was 23 points behind Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs (actually 25 points going into Tuesday night), Byslma said: "I'm not going to make any prediction on that. We've got 61 games left and his pace is pretty good right now."

Bylsma's response drew chuckles and as the coach stepped down from the podium and made his way toward the door, he passed his questioner. Byslma raised the gamesheet he was holding, using it to shield his mouth, and said in a stage whisper: "The answer is yes."

It's an interesting answer.

It's a great question.

Kessel, who had 29 points in 21 games entering play Tuesday night, was on pace for a 113-point season.

Crosby, in his electrifying return from a concussion, had two goals and two assists Monday in the Penguins' 5-0 win over the New York Islanders.

The Penguins have 61 games left. If Crosby stays healthy, he would have to average just under two points a game (1.80) for the rest of the season to get to 114 points.

Crosby entered this season with the fourth-highest points-per-game average in a career at 1.393 (Wayne Gretzky leads the category at 1.921 points a game).

But could Crosby crank it up for a span?

He has in the past, as recently as last season. He had 50 points during his 25-game scoring streak which ended just before he sustained hits to the head in successive games in January. The hits led to a concussion, which put him on the sidelines until Monday night.

The big supposition is that the post-concussion Crosby can reach the same heights he did before he was injured.

The Penguins captain said Tuesday he was motivated through his long convalescence by the idea of again becoming the player he was a year ago.

"Every year you look for ways to be motivated," he said. "Sometimes they just kind of happen. For me, after going through this, I want to get back to where I was last season. Winning is always the constant factor, the constant motivating factor.

"Individually, when you're setting goals, yeah, I think that's a goal: I want to get back to where I was and I know that is going to take time."

Crosby said he didn't have any ill effects from Monday's game.

"I felt good. Tired. Obviously it has been a long time since I played. A little sore, a little tired, but I felt good," he said.

Those scoring projections assume Kessel, or somebody else, doesn't crank it up and raise what ultimately will be the point total which wins the Art Ross Trophy this season.

Talk of Crosby winning the scoring title wouldn't even be a topic if not for his Crosby's dynamic return.

He wasn't having any of it Tuesday.

"I don't think that's possible. It'd be great, but I don't think that's possible," he said when asked if he thought he could win the Art Ross. "It's not even something on my radar to be honest with you."

If he stays healthy, Crosby has a chance to play 62 games. Five of the past seven Art Ross winners played 82 games. Crosby played 79 when he won it in 2007 and San Jose's Joe Thornton played 81 in 2006, so certainly the odds aren't with him.

That's what makes it fun.

But consider this: In 2000, Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr won the Art Ross playing just 63 games.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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