Penguins rough up Rangers in Big Apple
NEW YORK — Evgeni Malkin does not like to talk about what he does best.
As long as he is doing it, he probably does not have to say a word.
Malkin recorded three primary assists — including two on goals by linemate James Neal — and the Penguins dumped the New York Rangers, 6-3, at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
Malkin, who centers for right winger Neal on what is considered the Penguins' second line, has four assists through two games. Neal has three goals.
This is exactly the start the Penguins needed from the first (Malkin) and seventh (Neal) leading scorers in the NHL last season.
“We just play to win,” Malkin said. “What coach (Dan Bylsma) says before the game, we try to do because it's (a) short season. We (are) not (thinking) about points, (who) scores — it's just play to win every game.”
The Penguins did that during what appeared to be a daunting opening weekend. Their wins at Philadelphia and New York provided a four-point cushion on the Flyers and Rangers, two of four Atlantic Division playoff teams last season.
As for the Rangers — co-favorites for the Stanley Cup along with the Penguins according to Las Vegas bookmakers — captain Ryan Callahan lamented “a lot of errors” that included seven giveaways and a combination of 30 shots that were missed or blocked.
“We have some things we need to work on,” Callahan said.
The Penguins worked over Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was yanked after surrendering four goals on 18 shots. A perennial Vezina Trophy candidate, Lundqvist had not been pulled from a game since a Feb. 3, 2011, loss to New Jersey.
Neal, right wingers Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis, and defenseman Matt Niskanen bested him. Neal also beat Rangers substitute Martin Biron, and defenseman Kris Letang scored into an open net.
If any opponent was a candidate to rattle Lundqvist, who called Sunday “personally… a rough night,” the Penguins were that foe.
They are 23-10-8 against the Rangers over the last seven seasons — coincidentally, Malkin's NHL tenure.
He and Neal combined for 90 goals last season, and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby assessed their chemistry as “a huge bonus” early in a season with so many players shaking off rust.
Crosby, who has regularly played with Dupuis and left wing Chris Kunitz on the top line, knows about the value of chemistry.
“It's just a sense of confidence,” said Crosby, who recorded an assist for his first point of the season. “It's a good feeling that no matter how the game is going, eventually when you do get that chance you're going to capitalize. It's just confidence in executing and knowing no matter what the situation is, you're going to generate that chance.”
Malkin, a two-time scoring champion and the reigning MVP, spent the lockout playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Neal played in a couple of charity games but trained with former Penguins winger Gary Roberts.
“He's playing right where he left off last year, and that's big for me,” Neal said of Malkin. “I'm just trying to get to open ice. He finds me. It's fun to be a part of.”