Star forward Evgeni Malkin missed four games of the Penguins’ recent 12-win streak with a knee injury. He was likely hampered by the injury for a number of games before that, too, until a tweak December 2 against Atlanta finally forced him to take the time to heal.
In the three games since he’s returned to the lineup, Malkin has racked up eight points (5G, 3A), including five in Monday’s 6-1 rout of the Phoenix Coyotes, tying his single-game best. The performance was so dominant that even linemate Sidney Crosby – who paired up with Malkin for three points to extend his 21-game scoring streak – was left shaking his head.
“He was playing unbelievable,” Crosby said. “It’s really fun to see a teammate take over a game like that and, when he’s playing like that, I think he pushes everyone to raise their level. I was just trying to keep up with him and make sure I was there to create things when he was open.”
“The game was going to a different level for him,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “To have Sidney Crosby even shake his head a little bit and say ‘wow’ is a unique thing.”
Malkin said his knee is “close to 100 [percent] because there’s no pain.” And Bylsma sees the former Art Ross Trophy winner and playoff MVP getting back into the groove of the team’s style of play.
“Tonight he was real focused on playing the right way, and he got results.” Bylsma said. “He obviously had a jump in his step and carried that momentum. He could’ve had a couple more points tonight, he had that many chances, and it’s good to see him skating like that.”
Together, Crosby and Malkin were a big part of the Penguins’ special teams success. They saw plenty of time on the power play – which was 3-for-3 through two periods, and ended up 3-for-5 – and some time on the penalty kill, which shut down all eight Coyotes chances with the man-advantage.
That’s less about skill than plain hard work, Crosby said.
“We have a lot of skill, and it seems like when we compete and work hard and outwork their penalty kill, the plays and execution come with that,” he said. “As long as we’re out there with the right mindset, the skill and the plays will take care of themselves.”
Compared with his own lofty standards, Malkin was having an underwhelming year statistically before his return, with 22 points in 26 games. His recent surge has helped remind NHL All-Star voters just how gifted Malkin can be – he’s jumped to third place among forwards – but his teammates aren’t a bit surprised at what he’s doing now that he’s healthy.
“I think he just looks like himself out there,” said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. “He’s having fun, he looks loose and it’s been going well.”
On Monday, one thing went best of all as far as Malkin was concerned, as he helped his team snap a two-game skid to get back in the win column.
“I’m happy because I scored and the team wins,” he said. “Every game I feel better and better.”