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Red Wings whip listless Penguins

| Tuesday, March 23, 2010

DETROIT -- NHL legend Gordie Howe visited the Penguins' locker room Monday at Joe Louis Arena to spend some time with Sidney Crosby.

The Penguins' captain would probably rather have seen Evgeni Malkin at an adjacent stall. Malkin has missed 10 games this season, and Crosby has failed to score in any of those contests. The trend continued against the Red Wings as the Penguins looked generally lifeless in a 3-1 setback.

Malkin isn't sure if he will play Wednesday in Washington. He skated briefly yesterday morning but looked uncomfortable and was immediately ruled out.

The Penguins could certainly use some kind of a spark, and a healthy Malkin might be a perfect remedy.

"I don't know what it is right now," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said. "The playoffs are coming, and we're not where we need to be right now. There's no doubt about that."

Although Malkin's numbers this season are down from the lofty standards he has set, his value is becoming increasingly clear. The Penguins are 3-7 in the games he has missed.

Perhaps more alarmingly, Crosby, who is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the NHL goal lead with 45, has produced zero goals and only three assists in the 10 games Malkin has missed.

"But Detroit was really good tonight," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "You have to give them some credit."

Indeed, the Red Wings looked nothing like a team that is barely in the Western Conference playoff picture. They looked like the Red Wings of old, only with a young twist.

Rookie goalie Jimmy Howard, a candidate for the Calder Trophy, stopped 26 of 27 shots in his 19th consecutive start. He has supplanted Chris Osgood as Detroit's top goalie. The only goal he allowed, Pascal Dupuis' 18th of the season, was a fluky play that saw Chris Kunitz whack at the puck before it beat Howard.

"I'm just having the time of my life right now," Howard said.

Fleury was actually considerably more dynamic for most of the contest. In the first period, he made a number of spectacular saves that were reminiscent of his last trip to Detroit, when he produced an epic performance in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.

"You could see he was on top of his game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Still, he allowed a Valtteri Filippula goal late in the first period. Filippula used Sergei Gonchar -- who endured a miserable evening -- as a screen and fired a shot past Fleury's stick side in the final minute of the first period.

"That one hurt," Fleury said. "I had played real well until then. You don't like to give up a goal like that at the end of the period."

Fleury would later give up two goals to the red-hot Henrik Zetterberg, one off a rebound and another on a wrist shot that the goaltender would like to have back. Zetterberg not only finished with three points but also played his customarily tough defense against Crosby.

"He's a very, very good hockey player," Bylsma said. "We saw that tonight."

Fleury was solid for much of the night, and the Penguins killed off all four Detroit power plays. Other than that, though, not many positives were displayed.

The Red Wings played with more speed and energy throughout the night.

"They were more desperate than we were tonight," Eaton said. "They really battled and played a great game."

The Penguins didn't show a whole lot of fight until after the game. Crosby and Zetterberg were involved in an altercation at the game's conclusion when Howard attacked Crosby from behind.

The hostile crowd, which chanted at Crosby throughout the game with disdain usually reserved for Philadelphia, and Howard's late actions only serve as motivation, Crosby said.

"I'm always motivated to play," he said. "When people say stuff, that just motivates you more."

A real shot of motivation could come when Malkin returns.

Whenever that is.

"We did some things well," Bylsma said. "But we weren't good enough."

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