Penguins rally to knock off Jets for 12th consecutive win at home
By Rob Rossi
Published: Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 3:45 p.m.
Evgeni Malkin is going to play on a line with Alex Ovechkin at the Winter Olympics.
He wants to perform like Ovechkin before and after those Games.
Sunday was a strong start.
“You see ‘Ovi' last year — he did not score (much) in the first 20 games then after he (has) scored in (almost) every game,” Malkin said after scoring twice in the Penguins' 6-5 win over Winnipeg at Consol Energy Center that matched a franchise-best 12th consecutive home win.
Malkin produced three points in his first game after missing nine in a row because of an injured left leg.
“It's very important for me,” Malkin said of being rewarded for the way he played Sunday.
He initiated contact with Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. He charged toward the net that Winnipeg's Al Montoya tried to protect. He instinctively read wingers James Neal and Jussi Jokinen, each of whom set up a Malkin goal. He attempted five shots, placing four.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma described Malkin's performance as “big for his confidence.”
“It's big for our team,” Bylsma said.
Malkin has eight goals and 35 points in his past 19 games. He has failed to record a point only once and produced 11 multiple-point games on this run.
He had only 12 goals and 43 points in 44 prior games, dating to last season, before this stretch.
That is why he mentioned Ovechkin, his fellow former MVP/scoring champion Russian who has 54 goals in the past 63 games after scoring only nine in his first 23 contests upon returning from the NHL lockout.
Bylsma, set to coach the United States at the Olympics next month, will have to figure out how to limit the scoring chances Malkin and Ovechkin will generate in a USA-Russia showdown in each club's second game.
He will spend more time on that than reviewing video of the Penguins' win over the Jets, which he jokingly said he would remove from his laptop's hard drive.
The Jets are now responsible for 10.9 percent of the goals surrendered by the Penguins at home in 22 games.
This was Winnipeg's only visit to Consol Energy Center, and it came 24 hours after the Jets were grounded, 4-1, at Boston on Saturday. Still, the Penguins trailed 2-0 after the opening period and 5-4 in the third before Malkin's second goal of the game with about 12 minutes remaining in regulation.
Matt Niskanen scored his fifth goal about four minutes later, taking a feed from defense partner Olli Maatta, and then blasting a shot past Montoya.
That sequence actually began with captain Sidney Crosby losing an offensive-zone faceoff, but left winger Chris Kunitz retrieved the puck and knocked it back to Maatta.
Niskanen subtly hinted that Hockey Canada executive director Steve Yzerman might want to check out that play by Kunitz before settling on that country's Olympic roster by Tuesday.
“That's a small detail that maybe not everybody sees,” Niskanen said. “When your wingers help out like that, it makes all the difference.”
Actually, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's late robbery of Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd made for the difference. With Ladd, a left-handed shot, positioned in front of the crease for a rebound, Fleury spread to his right and knocked down with his right blocker a shot by Ladd with 2:28 remaining.
Malkin thought that save was more worthy of attention than his performance.
“I'm not (thinking) about my points if we win,” Malkin said.
What he will think about before, during and after the Olympics …
“Work hard. Shoot (the) puck. Have fun,” Malkin said.
“And win a lot.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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