Opponents aren't exactly using gimmick defenses or radically adjusting the way they play when they go against NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin
of the Pittsburgh Penguins
But since the Penguins' star enjoyed a midseason stretch in which he piled up 17 goals in 17 games, he has been held without a goal in his last three games, although he had a pair of assists.
Teams appear to be taking a more physical approach with Malkin, a tactic that has worked at times in the past. The Buffalo Sabres
, for example, shadowed Malkin with the 6-foot-5, 212-pound Paul Gaustad
during their 6-2 victory on Sunday.
"That's something he has to deal with," coach Dan Bylsma
said. "It's something to be aware of when certain teams play those types of players against him."
To be successful against such defenses, Bylsma wants Malkin to continue to use his own size -- he's 6-3 -- and his speed to create room to operate.
"I think he's done a really good job with the way guys have targeted him physically," Bylsma said. "In past years he may not have responded, or responded after the whistle in a way that was detrimental to his game. (This season) he's really been focused and not really gotten into that type of scenario. He wins the physical battle a lot of times."
Former Penguins forward Mike Rupp
, now of the Rangers, said controlling Malkin is a priority. Malkin has three goals in three games this season against the Rangers, even though New York has allowed a League-low 116 goals. Despite Malkin's success against them, the Rangers are 2-1 against Pittsburgh going into Tuesday night's Atlantic Division matchup at Consol Energy Center.
With 32 goals and 39 assists for 71 points, Malkin owns a three-point lead over Claude Giroux
of Philadelphia in the NHL scoring race. The Flyers play at Winnipeg on Tuesday night.
Malkin has 15 goals and 12 assists in 33 career games against the Rangers, including two goals during Pittsburgh's 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19. That effort came during a stretch in which the 2009 Art Ross
Trophy winner scored eight goals in five games.
"He's playing at a level that you don't see too often," Rupp said. "He's a talented guy that we've seen for a long time. This year is another feather in his cap as far as elevating his game. He's a guy that, I think, a lot goes off him and the team seems to do very well with him leading the way."
Even with star Sidney Crosby
out of the lineup for all but eight games, Malkin has helped keep the Penguins among the Eastern Conference leaders with 71 points, only one fewer than reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston.
Malkin recently scored at least one goal in eight consecutive home games. However, Pittsburgh has dropped two of its last three and is 4-4-1 since ending an eight-game winning streak.
Crosby (concussion-like symptoms), as usual, worked out in advance of the Penguins' morning skate on Tuesday. He is not yet cleared for contact or for full practice, and his return remains indefinite.