A clean-shaven Brad Malone
sat in his stall after a Saturday practice at Raleigh Center Ice.
His scraggly red beard was no more, as was the donut in his goals column.
“Everyone was kind of sick looking at me with whatever you would call that on my face,” Malone said. “I wouldn’t even call it a beard.”
Beard or otherwise, Malone said he hadn’t grown it out like that since college when he was too “lazy” to shave. The circumstances were a little different this time around for the guy called “Bugsy Malone” in the locker room.
"The boys were giving me a hard time, so I told them I wouldn't shave it until I scored," Malone said after the Canes’ 2-1 win on Friday night. "It could have been a long year."
It was long enough for Malone, who had gone 27 games without a scoring point. That finally changed on Friday night when he gave the Canes a 1-0 first-period lead over the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Even to just get the opportunity is something we look to do every time our line is out,” he said. “A two-on-one doesn’t happen very often, and to score is good for confidence and for the whole group.”
For the past two weeks, Malone’s game has been increasingly noticeable. He doesn’t log a lot of minutes – his time on ice has hovered around nine minutes or so since Dec. 20 – but when he’s been on the ice, he’s been physical and, at certain times, has created some offensive looks for a struggling offensive team.
“He’s competed hard. He’s really competed, and he’s been physical. He was physical again tonight. It was nice to see him get rewarded with a goal,” Peters said after Friday’s game. “He’s done a good job as an energy guy, and the goal was good for our team and him as an individual.”
Past the midway point of a scoreless first period on Friday, Malone raced off with Ryan Murphy on a two-on-one rush. He held on to the puck and sniped a shot high glove side on Steve Mason.
“I thought were dangerous early, and we had some good looks,” Peters said after practice. “The nice thing about that play is that it’s your fourth line and Ryan Murphy jumping to create the two-on-one and buy Bugsy more time to shoot and give the goaltender additional things to think about.”
“I’ve been trying,” Malone joked after the game about perfecting that shot in practice. “I kind of feel bad for Wardo a little bit, but that’s where I like to go.”
Malone isn’t a guy who the Canes will rely on to score goals – he has five in 82 career NHL games – but when he can contribute on the scoresheet, it’s akin to playing with house money. As a depth role player, it’s energy and physicality the Canes want to see out of the 6-foot-2, 207-pound forward on each shift.
“I think that’s why I’m here. That’s kind of my role: to bring energy, whether it’s fights or hits. Any time you can chip in offensively, it’s a bonus,” he said. “Every time I’m out there, I’m just trying to give it 110 percent. Be physical and try to be a difference-maker in different ways.”
Malone leads the Canes in penalty minutes with 40, also a career-high for the 25-year old forward. Five of those 40 penalty minutes were racked up when Malone went toe-to-toe with Brandon Prust of the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 29.
“It shows me one guy can count. He sees how many forwards are starting to get healthy and come back. He’s going to do what he can to hold on to his spot, and that’s the internal competition,” Peters said the next day after practice. “The fight I thought energized our group. He’s a guy looking to stay in the lineup.”
Malone has skated in 28 of the Canes’ 38 games, five games shy of eclipsing his career-best 32 games played last season in Colorado. He’s been a regular in the Canes’ lineup since Dec. 8 when, prior, it had been two weeks since he last skated in game action.
“With injuries, it gave me an opportunity to play a little more than I usually would,” he said. “I talked with the coaching staff about consistency and keeping things on a level playing field whether it’s a good or bad shift.”
With numbers growing in the forward corps – Alexander Semin is healthy and nearing a return and Andrej Nestrasil is skating again – Malone is playing to his strengths to hold on to his roster spot.
“I just try to eliminate my mistakes, play a team game and contribute any way I can,” he said.
On Friday night, he contributed in a tangible way, giving the Canes’ their 15th 1-0 lead of the season. He was rewarded postgame by becoming the 10th player to wear the Canes’ fireman’s helmet, passed on by Anton Khudobin.
“It was kind of a surprise, but the goal is to give it away tomorrow after a win against Boston,” Malone said. “I don’t want to hold on to it for too long.”
Certainly for not as long as he had his beard.