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Is Malkin the MVP - Most Valuable Penguin?

by John Kreiser
Sidney Crosby is the captain and leader of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But it's not too hard to make the case that Evgeni Malkin might be the MVP -- Most Valuable Penguin.

Why? Well, the Pens without Malkin are just another bunch of flightless birds. Malkin sat out seven games from Oct. 30 through Nov. 12 with a shoulder injury, and has missed seven of the last eight with a foot injury. Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay dropped Pittsburgh's record without the defending Art Ross Trophy winner to 5-8-1 -- and two of those wins came in shootouts.

Crosby without Malkin has been just another Kid. Before getting two goals in Sunday's 5-4 shootout win against Toronto, Crosby had been scoreless in 12 games without No. 71.

Overall, the Penguins have been outscored 46-28 without Malkin -- meaning that when he's in the lineup, Pittsburgh's offense is comparable to Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver, the highest-scoring teams in the NHL that don't play in Washington. But without him, they're not even as good as the Boston Bruins, who are last in the NHL in scoring with 191 goals.

Needless to say, the Pens are hoping he'll be able to play in Saturday's game against Atlanta

Smith the stopper -- Malkin or not, one player the Penguins are glad they won't see again this season is Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith, who shut them out Wednesday. Smith is now 3-0-0 against the Penguins during the last two seasons and has allowed the grand total of one goal.

Will April showers bring Ovi goals? -- Alex Ovechkin probably wasn't unhappy to see March turn into April.

Ovechkin had 44 goals and 92 points in 54 games before the NHL and the rest of the hockey world took two weeks off for the Olympics. But the Ovechkin of March was nothing like the one who went to Vancouver looking like he might reach the 60-goal mark for the second time in three seasons.

Ovi finished March with 4 goals in the 12 games he played (he sat out two others due to a suspension). It's the lowest-scoring month (10 games or more) of his career. He added 8 assists for a 12-point month, not bad by normal standards, but positively pedestrian for the Washington Capitals' star

Ovechkin started April with an assist in the Caps' 2-1 win over Atlanta Thursday, and still needs four goals to avoid missing the 50-goal mark for the first time since 2006-07, his second NHL season.
Practice makes perfect -- Opposing teams might do better by taking fewer shots at Ryan Miller.

The Olympic MVP seems to thrive on work. He faced 42 shots Monday night in Boston and stopped 40 of them in Buffalo's 3-2 victory. It was the sixth time this season he's faced 40 or more shots, and the Sabres are 5-0-1 in those games. Miller has not allowed more than two goals in any of those games. (He's 34-17-7 when he sees fewer than 40 shots).

One of Miller's saves came on a first-period penalty shot by Boston's Marco Sturm. It was the second penalty shot he's faced -- and stopped -- this season. For his career, Miller has faced 12 penalty shots and stopped 11 of them.

New team, better results -- The Phoenix Coyotes dealt Peter Mueller to Colorado at the trade deadline because his scoring touch had vanished -- he had just 4 goals and 17 points in 54 games and had shown little of the form that made him the No. 8 pick in the 2006 Entry Draft.

But maybe all he needed was a change of scenery.

Mueller has been one of the few Avs who's been playing well down the stretch. He matched his season total with Phoenix in his first 12 games with Colorado by getting 17 points (7 goals).

Luckily for the Coyotes, they've been on the receiving end of a similar outburst by Lee Stempniak, who came over from Toronto at the deadline after scoring just 14 goals in 62 games as a Leaf. Stempniak nearly matched that total in four weeks with the Coyotes, getting 13 goals in 14 games after the trade to earn the NHL's First Star for March.

Another player who's thrived since getting a chance with a new team is goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who was buried behind Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary, but has been superb for Anaheim, going 4-0-0 in five games (four starts) since the trade. The four wins matched his entire total in 29 games over parts of three seasons with Calgary (he was 4-12-1, including an 0-8-1 mark in his first nine decisions). No other goaltender in franchise history has won his first four starts with the Ducks.

Unbeatable -- What's the best bet in the NHL this season? How about that the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres will win the game if they lead after 40 minutes.

The Kings and Sabres both started Thursday's game with 28-0-0 records when they lead after two periods. The Kings made it 29-for-29 by pummeling Vancouver 8-3, while the Sabres never led in a 4-2 loss at Toronto.

L.A. and Buffalo are at one end of the lead-protecting spectrum; the Columbus Blue Jackets are at the other. One of the reasons the Jackets failed to repeat as a playoff team is their inability to close out games. Columbus has lost a League-high six games in regulation when leading after two periods and dropped four more in OT or a shootout. That's 16 points the Jackets haven't gotten when leading after two periods, five more than Colorado, which has lost 11.

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