PITTSBURGH — So, how does it feel, Steven Stamkos was asked, to lead the league in scoring?
Not just for goals, but points, too.
"It doesn't feel like anything," the Lightning center said. "We still have lots of hockey left, and I'm trying to do everything I can to help us win."
Typical Stamkos, coach Guy Boucher said. "The biggest strength he's got is it's all about the team all the time, and it's genuine."
As much as Stamkos, 22, wants the focus on Tampa Bay's uphill quest to make the playoffs, his personal accomplishments and the circumstances surrounding today's game with the Penguins make it a lot about him.
Behind six goals and five assists in his past four games, Stamkos technically leads the league in points with 73. Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin also has 73, but because Stamkos' 43 goals lead second-place Malkin by a whopping 10, Stamkos gets the nod from the NHL.
It's kind of cool, then, the two go head-to-head today at the Consol Energy Center.
"I think that's the story," Stamkos said Friday. "It's going to be that way regardless of what I think. I don't think of it that way. … That's just brought up in the media."
Malkin did not talk to reporters, but Penguins coach Dan Bylsma agreed.
"I don't think at this point in time with 22 games left for us that we're looking at it as a showdown game or head-to-head game between two guys with high numbers," he said. "If there were just a few games left in the season, it might be more of a head-to-head matchup."
Either way, Stamkos has forced his way into any conversation about the game's best players.
He had been around the fringes but before this season was known primarily as a goal scorer. That characterization no longer fits, Boucher said, because Stamkos has become so much better defensively and is even getting some time here and there on the penalty kill.
He scores goals from close to the net rather than relying on his one-timer, his league-best 35 even-strength goals highlights that he fights for scoring space, and his 21:24 average ice time entered Friday fourth among league centers.
In the two games in which captain Vinny Lecavalier has missed with a fractured right hand, Stamkos has three goals and six points.
"He's got a lot of pressure," Boucher said. "But right now he's taken it to another level. He's not perfect every game, but if you would have asked me before the season how far I would have wanted him to go, he's surpassed that."
Boucher did not disagree that if the team makes the playoffs, Stamkos should be an MVP candidate.
"Under the circumstances, I would look at him," Boucher said. "But we're far from that."
Malkin, too, is an MVP candidate for the way he is carrying the Penguins without concussed superstar Sidney Crosby. In his past two games against the Lightning, he has five goals and seven points.
"He's a pretty rare combination of size and skill," Stamkos said. "He's one of the greatest players in the world, and it's going to be tough to try to contain him."
The Penguins could say the same about Stamkos.