Malkin's mastery produces another win for Penguins

| Monday, Jan. 23, 2012

The rivalry is back.

After three close but generally tepid games this season, the star power and intensity that has dominated the rivalry between the Penguins and Capitals resurfaced Sunday at Consol Energy Center.

Evgeni Malkin — who else• — delivered an overtime goal to lift the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

Following the game, which featured three lead changes, a frantic final minute of regulation and a showdown between Malkin and Washington star Alex Ovechkin, there was a difference of opinion regarding who was responsible for the victory.

Ovechkin was impressed by Malkin, whose goal and two assists increased his league-leading point total to 58. But Ovechkin didn't seem so impressed with the rest of the Penguins.

"Malkin played great," Ovechkin said. "I think he controls the game so well right now. He knows without (center Sidney) Crosby, this team is good, but not that good."

That Malkin and right wing James Neal — who scored two more goals, increasing his total to 26 — are carrying the Penguins' offense is indisputable.

But Malkin doesn't appreciate the notion that the Penguins' six-game winning streak isn't a team venture.

"It's not just our line," Malkin said. "We have 20 people. Today we played 100 percent, everyone."

Both teams have 20 people, but all eyes were on Malkin and Ovechkin. Usually the Penguins-Capitals rivalry features much fanfare because of the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry, but Malkin and Ovechkin managed to put on quite a show.

The struggling Ovechkin recorded two assists in the second period to help the Capitals climb back from an early 2-0 deficit, and buried a one-timer to put Washington ahead just 1:08 into the third period.

"He's always so dangerous," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said of Ovechkin.

The same could be said of Neal and Malkin.

With the Penguins down, 3-2, Neal fired a rocket that beat Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth to the short side. Some inspired work by Malkin cleared Neal for the shot.

"Geno wants the puck and wants to do good things with it," Neal said. "He definitely didn't want to lose tonight."

Malkin required only one shift to put away the contest in overtime. Neal's shot missed the net, but Malkin quickly gathered the carom and lifted it over a diving Neuvirth to win the game.

"Lucky bounce off the boards," Malkin said.

Even the Capitals admitted there was nothing lucky about it.

"He's an elite player, and to find that puck coming off the boards and to get it in, most guys would have taken another second," Washington coach Dale Hunter said.

Malkin almost didn't get a chance to score his seventh game-winning goal of the season — the team record is 10 — because Washington's Troy Brouwer rang a shot off the post behind goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with under a minute remaining.

"I said, 'thank you' to the posts," Fleury said. "They're strong buddies."

And the Penguins are suddenly a strong hockey team, winning six straight following a six-game losing streak. The Penguins had dropped eight straight at home to the Capitals before winning yesterday.

One game remains before the all-star break, as the Penguins head to St. Louis on Tuesday.

"It was big to get this win," Letang said. "We hadn't beaten them here in a while. We needed this."

Note: The Penguins reassigned forward Jason Williams to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday.

Scoring summary

First period

Penguins, 1-0 (4:51, PPG): D Kris Letang fired a shot from the center point that beat G Michal Neuvirth, who was screened by LW Chris Kunitz.

Penguins, 2-0 (5:52): C Evgeni Malkin won a faceoff cleanly to RW James Neal, who immediately fired a high wrist shot that beat Neuvirth.

Second period

Capitals, 2-1 (11:02): During four-on-four action, RW Pascal Dupuis was without a stick, which led to C Brooks Laich getting open in the slot and firing a one-timer past G Marc-Andre Fleury.

Capitals, 2-2 (14:38): RW Alexander Semin tapped in a rebound of a shot by C Mathieu Perreault with Fleury out of position.

Third period

Capitals, 3-2 (1:08): LW Alex Ovechkin took a cross-ice feed from Semin during an odd-man rush and buried a one-timer.

Penguins, 3-3 (7:06): Malkin cleared some space for Neal, who fired a shot from the right circle that beat Neuvirth to the short side.

Overtime

Penguins, 4-3 (1:31): Malkin gathered the carom of Neal's shot and sneaked it into the net before Neuvirth was able to get into position.

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