Malkin, top line help Penguins roll to blowout victory against Maple Leafs
Without skates, he stands 6-foot-3 on a 195-pound frame. So when he skates into a scoring zone, Evgeni Malkin is a sight to behold.
He also has 1,011 points in 861 career games. Two of those points came Saturday night when he had a goal and assist in the first period of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 6-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Clearly, he has a way of making his presence felt, too.
You can see Malkin. You can feel Malkin. And when he wanted the puck in that first period, anyone paying attention among the 18,587 at PPG Paints Arena could hear him.
“Usually, everybody in the rink can hear him (calling for the puck) when he wants it,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “And that’s an indication of just how invested he is in the game. “When he’s feeling it, he tends to be vocal. He’s vocal on the bench. He’s vocal on the ice.”
There’s no time like the present for Malkin to step up and lead the Penguins through their current streak of misfortune, with Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist and Nick Bjugstad out with injuries.
When the Penguins lost Crosby for the next six weeks with a core muscle injury, Sullivan and his staff sat down to figure out alternatives. They believe they have found a good one, with Malkin centering the top line between wingers Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust.
“No. 1, they are three really good players,” Sullivan said. “Rusty brings the speed element. When Sid went down with an injury, we were trying to figure out what was the best combination to create the balance that we need in the lineup, but we’re also trying to maximize Jake.
“Jake is a real good goal scorer. We thought we would try it with Geno and see how it went. The last two games, that line has been dominant, and even (Friday) night (in a 2-1 loss in New Jersey), they didn’t end up on the scoresheet, but they did everything else but score. They generated double digits in scoring chances just as a line.”
Guentzel, Malkin and Rust were three of 10 Penguins players who scored a goal or contributed an assist Saturday.
Guentzel and Rust scored on a power play and short-handed, respectively.
Second-line winger Dominik Kahun tallied twice early in the second period, and his center, Jared McCann, slipped one past Maple Leafs rookie goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo later in the second.
Overall, the Penguins sprayed Kaskisuo with 38 shots in his NHL debut.
“I think we played well (Friday),” Kahun said. “We just didn’t get rewarded for it.”
Kahun’s second goal originally was waved off by officials, who ruled Brandon Tanev interfered with Kaskisuo as the Penguins were trying to add to a 3-0 lead.
Sullivan protested, and the call was overturned on replay review when it was determined that the Maple Leafs’ Jake Muzzin tripped Tanev, causing him to slide into the Toronto goaltender.
The goal gave the Penguins a 4-0 lead in what might have been the turning point of the game.
It is Sullivan’s contention there is “a lot of gray area” when a player is called for interfering with a goaltender. But he felt strongly that Tanev was tripped and couldn’t avoid colliding with Kaskisuo.
“It’s a tough call,” he said. “Three-nothing game, and we challenge it. If we’re successful, it’s 4-0, and if we don’t, we put a real good power play on the power play. It’s potentially a two-goal swing with a lot of hockey left. That’s what’s at stake.”
As it turned out, the Penguins didn’t need that one goal as goaltender Tristan Jarry was in the midst of stopping 32 shots in his fifth start of the season.
“His rebound control was great,” Sullivan said. “He was swallowing pucks.
“Sometimes, those are the toughest plays to defend when the rebounds lay in the scoring area, and he swallowed a lot of them.”
The victory was the Penguins’ third in the past five games and validated what Sullivan has insisted for several weeks: The Penguins are playing well, even if they don’t have a lot of victories to show for it.
“I always say that’s sports,” Kahun said. “You try to do your best, and sometimes nothing goes in and sometimes, like today, everything goes in.”
Note: The Penguins recalled forward Joseph Blandisi on an emergency basis from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. Blandisi, 25, has appeared in seven NHL games this season and has two points (one goal, one assist). In eight AHL contests, he has two goals and two assists.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .