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Malkin looks sharp in return to Penguins' lineup

Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 10:41 PM / NHL Insider

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- One half of the Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar tandem was back on the ice Tuesday night.

Evgeni Malkin, who missed five straight games and seven of the last eight due to soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, received 19:19 of ice time and recorded three shots on goal in the Pens' 3-0 win against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

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Malkin participated in the morning skate and felt fine afterwards. It was determined just before the game that he'd be in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 13, when he notched a pair of assists in Pittsburgh's 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals.

"It feels good," Malkin said after being held without a point for the first time in four appearances this season. "My knee feels pretty good right now. The team played solid. We had lots of scoring chances. Maybe next game, I try to score. But we win and it's two points and that's good for the team."

Malkin said he put ice on his knee after the game and anticipates a bit of soreness, but nothing that would prevent him from being in the lineup again when these teams conclude their home-and-home series at Consol Energy Center on Thursday night.

The 12-day absence didn't appear to affect his play.

"I thought he looked strong," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think he was fine. He's a bull on the ice, and you could see it at different times, both defensively and offensively with the puck. It was a good game for him."

Malkin created scoring chances for both himself and linemates James Neal and Steve Sullivan, but the Pens' top line was unable to get one past Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Neal, who ranks second in the League with 8 goals, led the charge with five shots on goal.

"I think Geno comes in and just helps our power play a ton," Neal said of Malkin. "He does a lot of big things. The way he skates with the puck up the ice, he opens up so much."

"It's never a bad thing when you have one of the best players in the world come back and play in your lineup," added Pens center Jordan Staal, who scored his sixth goal of the season by hitting the empty net with 2:00 left. "Geno was in fine form. He made a lot of great plays."

The Penguins have played just four of their 11 games this season with Malkin in the lineup, and none with Sidney Crosby. Pittsburgh's captain hasn't played since January due to a concussion, but has been cleared for contact and is practicing with the club. Crosby did not accompany his teammates to Long Island as the Pens opted to keep him in Pittsburgh, where he skated on his own. There is no set date for his return to the lineup.

But just like last season, the Penguins are still finding ways to earn points in the standings. Tuesday's triumph was their fourth in a row and they've outscored their opponents by a 14-4 during that span.

"We haven't really thought much about it, (but) I hear talk about it," Bylsma said. "We're not immune to thinking about it or have it be in the conversation, but even right now tonight, we know we didn't play great in some areas of the game. I think there's lots of areas where we know we've got to get better at, and it doesn't matter whether Geno's in the lineup or not in the lineup or what's down the road. We'll take the win and we'll add the two points. Our focus is right here and right now and the next game."

Staal, however, admitted it has been difficult to not look ahead and think about just how lethal the Penguins can be when No. 87 is ready to join the mix. Despite missing the entire second half of the 2010-11 season, Crosby still managed to lead the Pens 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists).

"Obviously we're very excited with the way our team was playing without them," Staal said. "But we could be a very dangerous squad if we play the same way we had without them."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

For me, it's a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it's big.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards on their win vs. the Penguins in Game 2, the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff victory