Crosby chat helps Malkin production in Penguins' win
Value is not always best measured by numbers.
Sometimes it is simply talking to a friend.
Captain Sidney Crosby did that for Evgeni Malkin earlier this week — and whatever was said worked.
Malkin scored twice and set up the Penguins' two other goals — including an overtime winner by winger James Neal — in a 4-3 victory Saturday afternoon over Tampa Bay at Consol Energy Center.
Malkin had not produced four points in a game since Nov. 30. He has four goals and six points in two games since Crosby sought him out Wednesday.
“I just wanted to see how things were going — obviously, I knew it was probably difficult coming off the Olympics (and) having those expectations,” Crosby said. “There was enough time that had passed that I felt comfortable talking to him about it. It's not something I wanted to bring up right away.
“I think we all knew it was disappointing for him. He's not the kind of guy who's going to go look for someone and start talking about it. Just to kind of talk things out sometimes helps.”
It did, Malkin said.
“I (did) not play good after the Olympics,” Malkin said, referring to a stretch of 10 contests for which he produced only a goal and seven assists, including four games without a point.
“Sid helped me a lot because he understands my problem. He supported me. He helped me. After we talked, I felt so much better, and I started to play better.”
The Penguins (46-19-5, 97 points) would like to see Malkin's magic continue against Western Conference-leading St. Louis at home on Sunday afternoon.
It was on full display against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Malkin set up the Penguins' opening goal by taking a pass from goalie Jeff Zatkoff, dashing through a maze of Lightning players and carrying deep into the offensive zone before delivering a crossing saucer pass to an unmarked Crosby.
Crosby's 34th goal staked the Penguins to a 1-0 lead early in the second period, but they trailed 2-1 with about nine minutes remaining in regulation before Malkin pulled them even on another power play. Looking to shoot — as coach Dan Bylsma has said Malkin does when at the top of his game — Malkin buried a loose puck behind helpless Lightning goalie Anders Lindback.
A little more than five minutes later, Malkin found himself with the puck on the backhand-side of his stick blade and another clear look at a net opening that Lindback could not cover. Winger Jussi Jokinen had created a turnover near the blue line and fed to Malkin, who patiently lifted his shot over Lindback to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead.
It was short lived. Rookie winger Ondrej Palat's 19th goal with 1:22 left in regulation guaranteed that playoff-chasing Tampa Bay — winners of its five previous games — would take at least a point from an eighth consecutive contest.
However, while on another power play in overtime, Crosby and Malkin played catch with the puck before Malkin found Neal, whose 23rd goal was his first in eight games.
Neal brings great comfort to Malkin as his regular right winger on the second line.
Nobody understands Malkin like Crosby, though.
Among this group, only they have won an MVP and a scoring title and the luxury of a full no-trade clause on a long-term third contract that will allow each to retire as a Penguin.
Crosby, the NHL's leader in points, is chasing a second scoring title that would match Malkin's total and a tie-breaking second MVP.
Malkin, despite missing 11 games, is sixth in scoring with 72 points.
Aside from rarefied talent, Crosby and Malkin share the unique burden of being a face of the sport in their respective hockey-crazed countries.
Crosby has played at two Winter Olympics and taken gold medals from both — one on Canadian home soil, the other in Malkin's mother Russia at the most recent Sochi Games.
Malkin is without a medal despite playing at three Winter Olympics, and he was so disgusted by Russia's flameout at the Sochi tournament that he skipped the closing ceremonies to spend a few days at his apartment in Moscow.
“That's not something I've gone through, but I know it wouldn't be easy at all,” Crosby said. “I would expect to be pretty disappointed.”
Upon returning to Pittsburgh in late February, Malkin appeared “angry,” Neal said.
Crosby did not see it that way several weeks later. He saw somebody that needed a friend, and that is what these two franchise pillars have become over the past eight seasons.
They have hockey in common and not much else, but that bond is strong like the steel that Malkin's two hockey hometowns — Magnitogorsk and Pittsburgh — are famous for having produced.
“I can definitely relate to having pressure and expectations,” Crosby said. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself. I'm just trying to be there, like all of us. You care about your teammates. You want to see them happy. You want to see them having fun. That's most important.”