Surging Malkin, Penguins roll past Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. — Following Florida's morning skate Saturday, new coach Peter Horachek said he didn't watch any video of the previous meeting between the Penguins and Panthers.
Next time, he might want to study the guy wearing No. 71 more thoroughly.
Same goes for the rest of the NHL.
Evgeni Malkin continued his resurgence with a four-point night as the Penguins rolled past the Panthers, 5-1.
“He did it a lot of different ways tonight,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who called Malkin's performance “remarkable.”
“His effort has been pretty consistent for a long stretch of games here.”
Malkin scored his seventh goal of the season and finished the month with 24 points — including 20 assists — in 15 games. Following an extended goal-scoring slump, Malkin suddenly finds himself only a point behind teammate Sidney Crosby for the NHL scoring lead.
“I'm not thinking about that,” said Malkin, who instead deflected credit for his strong recent play to linemate James Neal.
“Good thing for Nealer. When he came back, I knew I'd play a little bit better.”
The center assisted on the game's opening goal, which saw Chris Kunitz notch his 14th of the season. Kunitz is on pace for 41 goals.
Center Joe Vitale then added his first goal of the season to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead after one despite being badly outshot.
After Florida curiously had a goal disallowed in the second period — Brad Boyes didn't appear to kick the puck, but the NHL ruled otherwise, setting off Florida general manager Dale Tallon in the press box — Malkin simply took control of the game.
“You could tell he was just about to bust out earlier in the season,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He's just working so hard. It was a matter of time. He just has that ability to take over.”
Malkin led a rush into Florida territory before dishing a pass to defenseman Olli Maatta. The rookie immediately returned the pass to Malkin, who made goaltender Tim Thomas, who would be pulled following the second period, look bad with a backhand move.
On the Penguins' fourth goal, Malkin made a number of Panthers look bad.
Malkin outworked the Panthers behind the net before locating his favorite target, Neal, who buried his sixth goal in the past five games.
Although the Penguins had taken control of the game entering the third period, Malkin continued to work harder, playing with more confidence than the player who continually was passing up open shots as recently as two weeks ago. The Penguins were outshot 40-22 but never seemed in danger of losing because of him.
“You saw tonight that we don't need a lot of opportunities to score with the skill we have,” said goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who stopped 39 of 40 shots for his fourth straight win.
The Malkin Show continued in the third period when he picked off Erik Gudbranson's pass and, in one motion, located Jussi Jokinen for his ninth goal of the season.