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E.J. Express: Malkin enjoying season for the ages

by EJ Hradek

Ho-hum, Tuesday was just another night at the office for Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins' other star center recorded his fourth 5-point game of the season -- scoring his 200th career goal -- in an 8-4 win over the visiting Jets. His latest scoring outburst has pushed him 9 points ahead of the Flyers' Claude Giroux and the Bolts' Steven Stamkos in the race for the scoring title. (Oh, by the way, Malkin has played in four fewer games than Giroux and seven less than Stamkos.)
Stats wiz Eric Hornick (@ehornick), who has been providing key statistical information during the Islanders' home broadcasts since 1982, tells me Malkin is the first player to post four 5-point games in a single season since Mario Lemieux and Peter Forsberg managed the sizable feat during the 1995-96 season. During that campaign, Lemieux had six such games, while Forsberg did it four times.
Barring something unforeseen, I suspect Malkin is going to skate away with the Art Ross Trophy and probably the Hart as well. After spending the summer rehabilitating his knee and pushing himself to a new level of fitness, "Geno" is reaping the rewards of his own hard work. Right now, with just a few short weeks until we drop the puck on the playoffs, these healthy Penguins look scary good.
All aboard, it's time for a ride on the E.J. Express.

1. Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma turns a thumbs-down on the idea that Malkin's numbers will inevitably go down with the return of Sidney Crosby. The coach does, however, believe that the two megastars sometimes defer to each other too often when they find themselves on the ice together.
Evgeni Malkin
Center - PIT
GOALS: 43 | ASST: 50 | PTS: 93
SOG: 300 | +/-: 18
"When guys are on the ice with players like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, they try to get the puck to them," Bylsma explained. "And, when those two guys are on the ice with each other, they tend to do the same thing. They try to get it to each other when maybe they're best suited to take a shot or do something themselves."
Either way, Bylsma doesn't expect any fall-off from Malkin. And he can site the stats to back up his claim. "In his career, he (Malkin) averages more than a point per game when Sidney's in the lineup with him," Bylsma said.
And I don't think that includes their last four games together. In that short span, Malkin has nine points -- or more than two per game.

2. The Blackhawks have to be thrilled with the recent improved play of sophomore goalie Corey Crawford, who, on Monday, earned the League's Second Star of the Week honors after posting a 3-0 mark with wins over the Blues, Stars and Capitals.
Crawford kept the good times rolling by backstopping a 5-1 win in Columbus last night. In his four-game run, he's allowed just four goals. The Montreal native is focused on being more consistent and he's excited about the chance to make a difference in the playoffs.
"I think I'm a lot better prepared for it this year," Crawford said. "It's a huge difference for me having gone through that experience, especially the way our series went (last spring) being down 0-3 and fighting back and just being a goal away from going on to the next series. That was a lot of good experience for me and I just feel I'm going to be better for it."
Even without injured captain Jonathan Toews, the Hawks have responded of late, winning four in a row and eight of their last 10 games. If they can get Toews back into the mix, the 2010 Cup champs could be a tough out.

Speaking of the Hawks, they'll get a chance to renew acquaintances with the rival Canucks tonight at the United Center in the fourth and final regular season meeting between the clubs. Vancouver has won two of the previous three games this year.
Zack Kassian
Right Wing - VAN
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 9
SOG: 45 | +/-: -4
The Canucks certainly could use something to get their pulse going after stumbling through their last 10 games, going a very mediocre 3-5-2, including a 2-0 loss in Minnesota on Monday.
It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, recently acquired Canucks rookie power forward Zach Kassian has on this nasty rivalry. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound winger has been known to like a physical game.
In nine games in Vancouver, the 21-year-old Kassian has put up just 2 points -- both in a 5-3 loss to his former team, Buffalo, on March 3. Still, he's impressed star teammate Henrik Sedin.
"He looks promising," the Vancouver captain said. "I think as he gets older and more experienced, he has a chance to become a really good player."
Kassian figures to gain a little of that experience tonight in his first Canucks-Hawks tilt.

4. So far, it's been a great NHL career for Blues newcomer Jaden Schwartz, the 14th pick in the 2010 draft.
In his one and only game, the former Colorado College star scored his first goal on his very first shot in helping the Blues to a 3-1 victory over the Lightning in Tampa. It wasn't just any win, though. That victory clinched a playoff spot for the Blues, who could soon lock up the top seed in the Western Conference.
Not surprisingly, the clever 19-year-old forward had a few butterflies before putting on the Blue Note for the first time.
"I was pretty nervous," Schwartz said. "I just tried to block out as much as I could and try to enjoy the day."
Well, I guess that worked out OK.
Schwartz, who says his decision to leave school after his sophomore season ended came together pretty quickly, figures to be back in the lineup when Blues visit the Ducks tonight.

5. The return of the Preds' prodigal son, Russian-born winger Alexander Radulov, has fans buzzing in Music City (and rival GMs steaming).
Alexander Radulov
Right Wing - NSH
Goals: - | Assists: - | Pts: -
Shots: - | +/-: -
The club's first-round pick in the 2004 draft, who bolted for the KHL following the 2007-08 season despite having a year left on his entry-level contract, landed in Nashville last night during the club's ugly 6-3 loss to the visiting Oilers. And, he's expected to practice with the team today.
Nashville veteran Martin Erat, who's among the few current Preds that previously shared an NHL locker room with Radulov, has no problem with his return.
"If he's going to help us win, I don't care what happened in the past," Erat said. "Those kind of players are always welcome on our team."
What does he remember best about his former and now current teammate? "He's a pure goal scorer," Erat said.
If that scouting report proves accurate, it's just another reason for teams to worry about the Preds.

When looking at the standings, Coyotes veteran sniper Ray Whitney can only shake his head. "The West is certainly messed up," he said jokingly.
Last night, after a 4-3 shootout loss in Dallas, Whitney probably feels it's even more "messed up." That defeat, combined with the night's other results, left the Coyotes on wrong side of the eight-nine line with just eight games left on their schedule.
Phoenix can cross back onto the right side of the playoff ledger with a regulation win over visiting Colorado on Thursday. Of course, that won't be so easy. The Avs are 11-3-1 in their last 15 games.
On a personal note, Whitney is just five points shy of the 1,000-point plateau. That lofty number isn't lost on the Alberta native, who spent some of his teenage years as a stick boy for the Gretzky-era Oilers.
"I didn't think I'd be in the game long enough to get 1,000 points," Whitney said. "I've been on waivers twice and bought out twice. I've seen the ups and downs of the NHL, I've gone through a couple of lockouts.
"And I'm not someone getting Sidney Crosby numbers," he continued. "Those guys who get 100-point seasons can get there in 10 years, 11 years, whatever it is. For the rest of us, who never reached the 100-point a season mark, it means you have to play a long time to get there.
"At times in my career, I thought the game had passed me by; but here I am, still going and reaching that number. So, it would be pretty special for me to get there."

Buffalo captain Jason Pominville is a stand-up guy. He didn't hide from the cameras and microphones when the Sabres went through a nasty mid-season slump and he's pretty straightforward when he assesses the club's more recent turnaround.
Jason Pominville
Right Wing - BUF
GOALS: 27 | ASST: 39 | PTS: 66
SOG: 201 | +/-: -9
"Our compete and battle level wasn't good enough," Pominville said. "Now, we've improved that. Lindy (Ruff) was pretty hard on all the guys and it's made a big difference."
The Sabres can inch closer to a playoff spot with a win against the visiting Canadiens tonight. With a victory, they'll tie the eighth-seeded Caps with 80 points. The Caps, however, own the tiebreaker advantage. The two clubs will get head-to-head in DC on March 27. Pominville and his posse likely will need to win that one if they hope complete their late charge up the standings.

Veteran Brian Rolston has been a pleasant surprise in Boston since being acquired from the Islanders at the trade deadline. In 12 games with the B's, the 39-year-old has tallied 8 points. That's just one fewer than he managed in 49 games with the Isles. He thinks the difference is just a matter of opportunity.
"They have a lot of real great young players on the Island and there came a time where they were going to use their young players and it was just one of those things and it didn't work out," Rolston said. "I feel fortunate that I got picked up by the Bruins at the right time and I feel like I have a lot left to offer."
Rolston's experience and versatility can't hurt the Bruins as they attempt to become the first team since the 1997-98 Red Wings to win back-to-back Cups.

Mike Knuble
Right Wing - WSH
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 16
SOG: 83 | +/-: -13
Another veteran, Caps winger Mike Knuble, is finding some late-season life. Also 39, like Rolston, Knuble found himself a healthy scratch for a series of games in February and early March.
Since regaining a regular spot in the lineup on March 10, Knuble has scored 3 goals in his last six games. That doubled his total from his first 58 games.
Knuble hopes he's seen the last of the press box.
"Everybody wants to be playing," Knuble said. "It was very frustrating. It eats at you. All you can do is make sure you give an effort when you get back in."

10. I'll complete this trip on the Express with one more note on the Penguins.
Since ending a six-game losing streak with a 4-1 win in Florida on Jan. 13, the Pens are a scorching 24-4-2 in their last 30 games. That's the best record in the League during that span.
Certainly, there's a long way to go between now and that June evening when they hand out the Stanley Cup; but these talented Penguins seem to be focused on skating late into the spring.

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