Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby continue scoring sprees as Penguins top Red Wings
Perched in his locker stall between crowds of reporters trying to interview stars du jour Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on Saturday afternoon, winger Carl Hagelin said six magic words Penguins fans have been waiting for and opponents have dreaded.
"Maybe we just turned the switch," Hagelin said.
Malkin, Kessel and Sidney Crosby combined for four goals and nine points as the Penguins ran their winning streak to three games with a dominant 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at PPG Paints Arena.
It's by far the best stretch of play this season for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who have been limping along on the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff picture more or less since training camp ended.
They're employing the fast, aggressive style that has become their trademark, and they've moved into a tie with the New York Rangers for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division.
"You can tell guys are more enthusiastic at the rink," Hagelin said. "Guys are moving. We're bringing more energy every day. That's the type of team we need to be. The plan is to keep doing it."
Malkin, Kessel and Crosby have led the way during the winning streak, combining for nine goals and 23 points.
A case could be made that their production has increased as the team's play has improved — a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats sort of argument — but it won't be coming from coach Mike Sullivan.
"Those guys drive the ship. There's no question," Sullivan said. "We're going to go as they go, and they're so dynamic when they're on the top of their game and they're so dangerous in every aspect of their game."
Sullivan went on to praise his entire roster for its energy and quickness on pucks in recent games, but he kept coming back to the impact of the team's star scorers.
"There's a lot of things we've liked about our game, but it's always going to start with those guys," Sullivan said. "They're elite players. They're difference-makers, and they tend to make the guys around them better."
Saturday's game marked the Penguins' return from a CBA-mandated, five-day off week. The time away did nothing to cool down Malkin.
He scored the overtime winner to beat the Bruins last Sunday in the game before the break started, and he scored again less than four minutes into Saturday's game, converting a Hagelin feed with a shot from the slot.
"A day off is always good for me," Malkin said. "It's a good game for everyone. We had a couple days of rest, a good practice yesterday. We understand it's not easy after so many days."
The Penguins had some significant penalty problems Saturday, taking four in the first period and seven overall. Detroit's power play connected once on a Justin Abdelkader rebound dig midway through the first period to tie the score 1-1.
The Penguins shrugged off the goal without much of a problem.
Late in the first, Kessel drove to the net and redirected in a cross-ice Crosby pass to score a power-play goal off the rush that made it 2-1.
In the second, again off the rush, Malkin took a pass from Kessel and slid a shot past goalie Jimmy Howard through traffic from between the hash marks.
In the third, Crosby lifted the stick of defender Frans Nielsen just as a backhand pass from Kessel arrived and slipped a power-play shot inside the right post.
With that, the resurgent Penguins suddenly have scored 14 goals in their last three games.
"It's always fun when you're winning," Malkin said. "You have more confidence. Your game is better. The mood is better. Now you're feeling so much better."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.