Penguins get back on track in rout of Canadiens
Evgeni Malkin did not know, Sidney Crosby was not looking and Dan Bylsma would not say.
They all witnessed a change for the Penguins on Wednesday night.
That something was a matchup — Malkin was on the ice for three goals scored against Montreal's top defense pairing of P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov — in the Penguins' 5-1 victory at Consol Energy Center.
“Nobody told me,” Malkin said. “I (did) not pay attention.”
Crosby said he no longer looks to see against whom he is playing because Bylsma, in nearly five full years as Penguins coach, is not one to match forward lines against opposing defense pairings.
Bylsma had the last change that is afforded to home coaches for this game unlike Nov. 26, when the Penguins lost at Montreal, 3-2, and Crosby appeared frustrated working against Subban, the Norris Trophy-winner last season.
In that loss, Crosby first had to work his way past Tomas Plekanec, Montreal's top defensive center.
Getting Crosby free from Plekanec was part of the Penguins' plan Wednesday, right winger James Neal said.
Bylsma, while smiling, declined to divulge his plan.
Malkin said his plan was to “make us play better” than in recent weeks.
“He and Jussi (Jokinen) were flying out there,” Neal said.
Malkin appeared more dominant than his 13th goal and an assist on Jokinen's first of two markers indicated on the final scoresheet.
On multiple occasions — and a few times on the same shift — he engaged Subban near the boards and maneuvered around, then raced past, Markov in open ice.
“You can't let Malkin carry the puck like that up the ice,” Canadiens winger Rene Bourque said. “It looked like he was playing a video game out there every time he went around us.”
Fuming, as were his teammates, since a 5-1 loss Monday to lowly Florida at home, Malkin sought to dictate from the start against Montreal.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien designated Plekanec's line and the Subban-Markov pairing to start the game. Bylsma countered with Malkin's line.
“That's what I wanted,” Malkin said.
Malkin, despite missing 11 games, has 50 points. He would be on pace for a fourth 100-point season had he been healthy.
Crosby has played in all 50 games — his most in four years — and leads the NHL with 69 points, pacing toward a 113-point campaign that could clinch his second scoring title.
His power-play goal in the second period provided the Penguins a three-goal cushion. It was Crosby's 26th of the season and one of his prettier goals.
Stationed to the right of Canadiens goalie Carey Price — his future Olympic teammate — Crosby deflected a pass from defenseman Kris Letang, who played almost 23 minutes and blocked three shots.
Crosby, mostly free from Plekanec and Subban, attempted 11 shots against the Canadiens compared to four in that loss at Montreal in November.
Therrien coached Crosby and Malkin to within two wins of the Stanley Cup in 2008, but he described them as “more mature now.” By no coincidence, Crosby and Malkin sparked the Penguins in perhaps their most important game this season.
Three weeks of defensive decline culminated in the loss to Florida on Monday, but the Penguins' response was a mix of a puck possession-led attack offensively and neutral-zone congestion.
“It was like they were trying to be aggressive,” Therrien said. “They were quick. They were hungry to play.”
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