NEW YORK -- Nikita Kucherov had four points on a hat trick and an assist against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 23. The very next night, Nathan MacKinnon had five points on four goals and an assist against the Washington Capitals.

Kucherov, the Tampa Bay Lightning right wing, answered with three points on a goal and two assists against the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 25. Again, the very next night, MacKinnon, the Colorado Avalanche center, fired back with a goal and an assist against the Los Angeles Kings.

Four days, four games, 14 points, seven each for Kucherov and MacKinnon.

And that's just a small sample size of what has already been, and could continue to be, one of the great races for the Art Ross Trophy, given to the player with the most points, in NHL history.

"I truly believe that race is going to go down to the wire, and it's going to be a ton of fun," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "If it motivates those guys, then it should because that's a big honor to have to be able to sit here and say you won the race."

Kucherov has 86 points (32 goals, 54 assists) in 50 games after he had an assist in a 3-1 loss at the New York Rangers on Wednesday. He has missed one game. The Lightning play the New York Islanders at UBS Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN).

MacKinnon has 85 points (32 goals, 53 assists) in 51 games. He has not missed a game.

Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is in third with 73 points (33 goals, 40 assists), five point ahead of Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid.

"I think when you're 20 games in and you're leading the League in scoring, you're leading the League in scoring," Cooper said. "When you're 50 games in and you're leading the League in scoring, there's a chance you might end up winning the scoring race. Ultimately, you don't want guys cheating the game to get points. I haven't seen Colorado enough, but I doubt 'Mac' does that and I know our guy definitely hasn't done that. You start playing the right way, there's a reason you have that many points."

Kucherov is a slick, smooth, almost effortless, without a pulse, assassin-type scorer.

MacKinnon is a powerful, fast, skate like he's making stuff fall off the shelves, bull in a china shop scorer.

But they have a mutual respect between them and an unsaid hunger to one up the other.

"I just think he's so skilled, just so talented, so smooth," MacKinnon said of Kucherov.

Said Kucherov of MacKinnon, "He makes the game look easy."

MacKinnon has 26 games with at least two points, including 10 with at least three, four with at least four points and two five-point games this season. He has more games with at least three points than he has games without a point (eight).

He had 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in a 14-game point streak that ended in New Jersey on Tuesday after putting up 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 19-game point streak from Nov. 20-Dec. 27.

"If you just want points, you're not really going to get them," MacKinnon said. "You have to earn them and do things the right way to be successful. Obviously, I want to win the scoring title, but I don't know if I will. I'm just going to try to compete against myself and hopefully that gets the job done."

COL@NYR: MacKinnon fires home a shot on the rush to strike first

Kucherov has 25 multipoint games, including 13 with at least three points. He has two four-point games, one five-point game, and he tied a 31-year-old Lightning record for most points in a game with six in an 8-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Nov. 24.

Like MacKinnon, he has more games with at least three points than he has games without a point (10).

"It's always fun to be at the top and be competing against those guys," Kucherov said. "I'm just excited to go out there and play every game to help my team win. Can't take a night off."

Kucherov pointed out that MacKinnon's ability to slow the game down has improved this season, a point the Avalanche center agrees with.

It's a big reason why he's on pace for 136 points, which would shatter his previous NHL high of 111, which he got in 71 games last season.

"Plays, they're developing a little slower in a good way, I guess," MacKinnon said. "It's a fast game, so when you can see things as they come and try to make the best decision I can, that's what Kucherov does every time."

Kucherov's shot volume is a big factor in his success. Not only is he on pace for an NHL-high 140 points (his career high is 128 in 2018-19), he's on pace to score 52 goals and get 347 shots on goal. His NHL highs are 41 goals (2018-19) and 279 shots (2017-18).

"I just think as a mature player, I don't know what it is, but you get more confident or more comfortable shooting more," Kucherov said. "When you're young, you're trying to make the play, pass, someone else has to shoot. Now I'm just like, 'I'll take my shot.'"

He, in a way, has teammate Mikhail Sergachev to thank.

Kucherov said Sergachev pointed out to him at the end of last season that he was high on the list of players with the most shots blocked and shots that missed the net.

He was fourth among forwards with 149 shots blocked and fifth overall with 125 shots that missed.

"I did work on my shot more this year than I usually do just because he mentioned that and it [ticked] me off," Kucherov said. "It got in my head that maybe I was too slow coming with it coming off the blade, or I was too lazy to move left or right to create an angle. He got in my head by saying that, so I did a lot of work in the summer on the ice and off the ice to make sure I get more shots hitting the net and maybe creating something off that."

He is getting more shots to hit the net this season, but his shot volume has been so high that he's actually on pace for more shots that are blocked (183) and to miss the net (150).

Kucherov will take that if it means more shots on goal, period.

"It helps other guys as well," Cooper said. "It's like 'Stammer' [Steven Stamkos] on the power play. He doesn't shoot it every single time, but teams prepare for him that way. Maybe a goalie would always sit there and say, 'Well, 'Kuch' is a pass first guy so let's plan for that.' The fact that you're now a major threat to shoot, it's better for him and for us."

Better for the scoring race too.

"He's going to be a tough guy to beat, that's for sure," MacKinnon said.

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