Some quick hits after the Penguins’ 6-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday:
So, clearly, describing goals is not my strength as a hockey scribe. (Hold the tee-em-up jokes, eh?) Anyway, keeping my limitations in mind, some of what Penguins players had to say about the gems on this night from C Evgeni Malkin, D Kris Letang and Avalanche C Matt Duchene…
— “Very nice goal. I liked it. He’s an awesome player. Pretty goal. I think it was better (than mine).”
Malkin, on Duchene’s dazzler in the first period
— “If Geno’s goal doesn’t make the (SportsCenter) Top 10 tonight, I don’t know what does. Just incredible skill. So much talent. It was fun to watch.”
LW Matt Cooke on Malkin’s third-period magic marker
— “I didn’t see it because my back was turned. But when I passed it to him, I knew he would do something cool with the puck. And he did.”
RW James Neal, on Malkin’s third-period goal
= Avalanche coach Joe Sacco was not pleased to have faced killing seven Penguins’ power plays.
“I didn’t think the game was that lopsided where the disparity should have been 7-2,” he said. “I thought it was a pretty even game.”
Not sure I disagree with Sacco.
About those power plays for the Penguins; somebody, please, figure out how to send a pass to Malkin’s left skate for a one timer. I promise whoever does won’t be disappointed too often.
= The Penguins were credited with only one giveaway in the first period. Anybody who watched this game is probably laughing after reading that last sentence. Even Penguins players were amazed at the statistic.
“I would classify it as probably our first period of the season,” Cooke said.
Added coach Dan Bylsma: “There were things about the game that ate at me. I didn’t quite enjoy the Duchene goal. The Malkin goal, and the sequence leading up to the goal, is what we needed from that line. That shift is how we want to play. It was an exceptional goal. I think we’re going to see that one again on the plays of the week.”
= Cooke laughed and offered “I hope so” when I suggested Malkin is about to go on a tear. My running game story – the one I file as soon as the game ends, which in the case of this game was dramatically different from the one you will read online Wednesday – focused almost entirely on Malkin’s past few games. An expert from that running gamer:
“If we want to just talk about last game,” Bylsma said, referencing the Penguins’ 5-3 loss at Carolina last Saturday night, “Evgeni Malkin had 13 scoring chances for us. That’s an outrageous number.”
Outrageous numbers are the expectation for Malkin – twice a scorer of more than 100 points in a season, a former single-season point leader and playoff MVP.
However he has not produced at an outrageous rate since a magical two-season run that began with his ascension to among the NHL’s elite players in January 2008 and capped with him drawing praise as the best player on the Penguins club that won the Stanley Cup in June 2009.
Injuries marred each of his past two seasons. Most notably he could not finish last season after tearing ligaments in his right knee in February.
An exhaustive rehabilitation of that knee and Malkin’s acknowledged improved focus on training over the summer sparked talk in the hockey world that he would regain his standing as a dominant, game-changing force.
Or, put another way: There were expectations for Malkin to again be a player worthy of the annually commanding a salary that, like Crosby’s number, counts $8.7 million against the Penguins’ salary cap.
That Malkin took the ice last night against the Avalanche.
This game was 32 seconds old when Malkin rushed up the right side of the ice and left a couple of Avalanche skaters in his dust only to ring a hard shot off the crossbar behind Avalanche goalie and fellow Russian Semyon Varlamov.
The Avalanche, owner of an outstanding 6-2-1 road record before this contest, led 3-1 before Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis changed momentum with a rebound marker, his fourth, midway through the second period.
Malkin had attempted four shots, misfiring on two, entering the final period – but he sharply fed defenseman Brooks Orpik, who pulled the Penguins even, 3-3, early in the third.
About three and a half minutes later Malkin took a pass from right winger James Neal, who is on a seven-game point streak. As Malkin received the puck he deked Avalanche left winger Gabriel Landenskog before working his way toward the slot and burying a shot behind Varlamov as he fell to the ice.
Malkin did not smile after scoring.
The look on his face seemed to suggest this was his comeback.
I still cannot shake that thought, by the way. Prediction time: This game will be the start of Malkin dominating the final five months of this regular season.
If I’m right, C Sidney Crosby can take all the time he needs.
By the way: I will not be shocked if Crosby plays on the Florida trip, and I am not alone among those who will not be shocked. This is the annual fathers’ trip, and in terms of media attention all will be relatively quiet compared to him returning in Pittsburgh. This is just a guess on my end, but I can tell you a lot of people are also making this guess behind the scenes.
= Full disclosure, I’m not often right on predictions – see: Neal scoring only 17 goals this season. He has 12. With every goal that he scores beyond 17 I am donating $10 to a charity of his choice. This may change the car I choose to lease from my uncle’s dealership, Oliverio Buick, because I figure to have considerably less cash in a few months.
Speaking of shameless family plugs, a hearty congrats to that uncle’s daughter, Katie Oliverio. She was a first-team all-WPIAL selection for volleyball because of her strong play for Bishop Canevin’s girls squad. She will hate reading this, which is half the reason I am writing it.