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Malkin helps Penguins edge Blue Jackets

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin seems to be just fine.

Malkin broke a scoreless tie in the second period and Sidney Crosby scored what proved to be the deciding goal of the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at Consol Energy Center.

Malkin's goal gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead 4:16 into the second.

Jussi Jokinen retrieved the puck on the red line near the boards and sent a cross-ice pass to Malkin, allowing him to streak into the Blue Jackets' zone. Malkin put his shoulder into Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin and carried the puck to the front of the net on his backhand. He switched to his forehand and buried the puck around goalie Curtis McElhinney for his eighth goal of the season.

"I think coming out of the first period, we did a better job of getting into the game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "The goal was a result of an offensive-zone shift. We force an icing and we continue that with Malkin's line, quick transition and keep their defense on the ice and get a great goal as a result.

"I think we played much better after that point."

Malkin's goal ended the Blue Jackets' shutout streak at 162:01.

"I don't know if it was just a broken play or what, but you have an elite guy like that coming with a head of steam," McElhinney said. "He's got a lot of options and obviously the one I tried against him didn't work.

"He's an elite player and he finds ways to put the puck in the net regardless of pressure or what the goalie's doing to him."

Malkin missed Pittsburgh's past two games with a lower-body injury sustained during a morning skate before its game against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. He is on a 10-game point streak (20 points, four goals) and is second in the League with 38 points, five behind Crosby.

He is one point ahead of Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane and two ahead of Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf; the Ducks were hosting the New York Islanders on Monday in Anaheim.

Crosby extended Pittsburgh's lead to 2-0 with 11:08 remaining in the third after a backhand pass from Pascal Dupuis deflected off of Crosby while he and Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno converged on the net.

Matt Calvert scored with 56.5 seconds left to cut Pittsburgh's lead to one-goal, but the Penguins' defense, which seemed to be depleted by injuries to Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, made sure two goals were enough.

Fleury was not tested much throughout the game, but still finished with 32 saves. With about one minute remaining in the game, Fleury came inches from scoring his first NHL goal on an open Columbus net and lost the shutout seconds later.

"It was like a slap in the face," Fleury said. "I just wanted to get a goal and score. Good thing we got the win and the two points. That's all that matters."

Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen aided Fleury's performance in the absence of the injured defensemen. Letang led the team with 25:47 of ice time; Niskanen logged 21:42. Each hounded the Blue Jackets' forwards and forced them to take low-percentage shots.

"I thought they did a good job of getting in shooting lanes," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "If we were able to execute out of the corner and get puck back to the point, we didn't have clean shooting lanes. I think one of the differences is shooting the puck.

"They created a lot of second chances. It seemed like a lot of our shots were catchable pucks or shots that him them in the chest."

Columbus, which had won three of its past four games entering Monday, has lost each of its three games against Pittsburgh this season and is now 16 points behind the first-place Penguins in the Metropolitan Division.

"You never want to go 0-3 against a division rival," Calvert said. "They're four-point games and you lose a lot of points in the race."

Neither team generated much offense in the opening period. Dupuis came close to scoring the game's first goal, but fired a wrist shot off of the cross bar with over three minutes left in the first.

Pittsburgh, which was playing without suspended forward James Neal, had the better of the scoring chances.

Chris Kunitz had an opportunity to extend the Penguins lead about seven minutes into the second while staring at an open net, but Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray slid to his stomach to block Kunitz's snap shot.

The Penguins’ new-look power-play unit didn't fare well without Neal in its first opportunity. Pittsburgh struggled to carry the puck into Columbus' zone and made several errant passes that resulted in easy clears for the Blue Jackets' penalty kill.

"It's tough [to not have Neal for five games]," Crosby said. "Especially after you [Neal] battle through an injury for quite a bit and came back as strong as he did. It's tough for him watching, it's tough for us losing him for a bit of time here, but we'll just try to keep moving forward."

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