If #GenoHeartLazy then the feeling is mutual.
Evgeni Malkin’s FINALLY goal – the one that snapped a 15-game drought – was really the doing of his trusted best buddy, James Neal, who admittedly passed up a sure scoring chance to feed his regular center.
Neal tried hard to hide a smile talking about that decision after the Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Islanders on Friday night.
“It felt good to see him get the money off his back,” Neal said.
These two were never supposed to get this close, to form this bond.
Neal was acquired in February 2011 with Sidney Crosby in mind. Then, general manger Ray Shero was still looking for that ideal fit to play with Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
Neal, then on his way to a third 20-goal season, was going to be that guy.
However, Crosby was out with a concussion. Malkin was also out – with a right knee that would require surgery. Neither star center would return that season, and Neal played the left wing on a line with Jordan Staal, who because of the injuries to Crosby and Malkin was centering the Penguins’ defacto top line.
Malkin beat Crosby back for the 2011-12 season, and Neal, having agreed to try the right side, remained a top-line winger.
That top line was Malkin’s, though.
They never looked back once paired, and Bylsma made the call to keep them together upon Crosby’s couple of returns.
Neal scored 40 goals that season, and Malkin netted 50. The latter won his second scoring title, the former finished seventh in points, and each was a first-team NHL All Star.
Their partnership extends beyond the ice. They sit next to one another inside the Penguins’ dressing room at home. They rib anybody – especially reporters – that cross into their space.
One reporter (cough, cough) got The Treatment on Friday morning. Malkin cracked jokes about something the reporter had written, and when the confused reporter looked quizzically at Neal, he was met with Neal fake-translating the English language.
It was playful. It was fun. It is two buddies making each other laugh.
It was telling, too.
Malkin and Neal often come off as knowing they need one another.
That explains Neal’s decision to pass up a clean shot, against an Islanders goalie (Kevin Poulin) playing in only his 31st NHL game, to get the puck to Malkin.
“It weighs on anyone when you have a hard time scoring and everyone’s kind of making a big deal about it,” Neal said. “It kind of gets to you.”
Neal then went into a strong defense of Malkin.
“He’s been making great passes, maybe being a little too unselfish and passing up opportunities where he could shoot it,” Neal said. “That being said, he came up with a big goal tonight.”
That Malkin did, but he seemed genuinely confounded as to why Neal, whom he calls “Lazy,” did not take the shot.
“I was surprised,” Malkin said, later breathing deep before smiling and adding…
“Thanks to him, for sure.”
>> Backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff was done no favors by the Penguins’ overall defensive effort. That it followed arguably their best – limiting the Capitals to 18 shots and only 46 attempts on Wednesday night – was not lost on Zatkoff, who played only his fourth NHL game.
He joked after a 32-save performance that he did have “uh, guys, what’s the deal?” moments during a second period that featured 13 shots on 22 attempts by the Islanders.
Zatkoff said he sat at his stall during the second intermission, took a deep breath, and figured his teammates would do a lot better.
He hoped so, anyway.
They did, allowing only 16 shot attempts to the Islanders over the final 20 minutes.
The Penguins owed Zatkoff that kind of performance with two points on the line in a tie game.
>> Crosby scored his 250th goal, and it was memorable. That is because it was the winner. Asked if he had any idea he was at No. 249 before scoring, Crosby plainly offered, “Not really.”
Believe him if you want.
Consider this, though: He missed 116 games over the course of three seasons from 2010-13. At his career rate of goals and points, that would mean he could have 309 goals and 859 points right now. Instead, he has settled for 250 goals and 695 points in 431 games.
>> Penguins 4, Islanders 3; THE GAME STORY: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5110944-74/penguins-malkin-crosby#axzz2lO93kIsl
>> No next decision yet on Olli Maatta: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5110953-74/penguins-maatta-junior#axzz2lO93kIsl
>> Yohe has the club in Montreal and Boston.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,