Pens down Predators, snap losing streak
The Penguins' stars showed up Friday, and the guy who still can't score received strong accolades from his linemate.
Evgeni Malkin failed to score for a career-high 12th consecutive game but was the dominant player in many ways as the Penguins easily handled the Nashville Predators, 4-1, at Consol Energy Center. The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the Penguins, who play Saturday in New Jersey.
Right wing James Neal scored his first goal of the season, right wing Pascal Dupuis scored his first goal in 12 games, defenseman Kris Letang overcame illness and a recent funk to add his fourth goal of the season, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury recorded his 11th win.
Instead of discussing his goal — a perfect tip off a Malkin shot for a power-play goal — Neal spoke passionately about his center.
“I don't think we'd be talking about (Malkin's streak without a goal) if we were winning games,” said Neal, whose goal was the winner. “Whenever you start losing a little bit, you're going to start pointing fingers. If you see the way he's going to the net and making plays, his passes are really on.”
Malkin not only recorded the primary assist on Neal's goal, but he also set up Letang's goal in the second period. He also fed Neal in the second period, but the right wing, who has missed all but four games this season, was robbed by Marek Mazanec's glove save.
The rookie goaltender, though, was betrayed by a team on the road for a 17th day.
And the Predators looked every bit as weary as might be expected. They put up little fight, and the Penguins' stars simultaneously found their groove.
“We're doing it to ourselves,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “We're probably not the most confident group right now, and it shows.”
There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with Malkin's confidence, at least not when he's setting the table for teammates. He has recorded the primary assist on four of the Penguins' past six goals.
“Just because he hasn't scored in whatever it is, doesn't mean he isn't playing well,” Neal said. “He's flying out there. He's making great plays. And I think people underestimate his vision and how great of a passer he is.”
While Malkin was in more of a distributing mood, Dupuis was looking for a goal to end his funk, and it didn't take long.
At the 12:36 mark of the first period, Dupuis evened the game when he buried a slap shot from the top of the left circle off afaceoff win.
“Yeah,” Dupuis said with a smile. “That one felt good.”
It felt good to the Penguins, too. They never looked back.
“You could feel the momentum change after we got that first goal,” said Fleury, who faced only 19 shots, three of which came in the third period. “The crowd got into it, and we were good the rest of the game.”
The stars were especially bright.
“It was a matter of time,” Dupuis said, “before we played 60 minutes like we want to play.”
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