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Malkin making a race of it with Ovechkin

by Phil Coffey

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were teammates
on Team Russia in the 2005 IIHF Men's tournament, and are now going for this year's NHL scoring title. 
Watch Capitals vs. Penguins highlights 
Last week, we touched on the dramatic impact Evgeni Malkin has had on the Pittsburgh Penguins since Sidney Crosby suffered a high ankle sprain on Jan. 18. Normally, we don’t like to continue to state the obvious, but geez, Malkin is making that impossible.

As the fingers tickled the keyboard here Thursday -- a little earlier than usual this week due to an all-day meeting Friday – Malkin had jumped past Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for the NHL scoring lead with 79 points in 60 games. “AO” retained the League lead in goals with 48, but Malkin’s 34 goals proves he is no slouch in this department either.

Malkin was the focal point of a 3-2 win over Florida on Tuesday night, assisting on the Penguins’ first two goals. The second assist pushed him one point ahead of Ovechkin in what figures to be a see-saw scoring race the rest of the way with Tampa’s Vinny Lecavalier, Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson, Calgary’s Jarome Iginla and Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg thrown in for good measure.

“It’s a great feeling,” Malkin told Dave Molinari of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette through an interpreter. “There’s still lots of games left, and Ovechkin is a great player. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”

What figures to happen is we’re all going to have a great time watching this race go right down to the wire.

In 15 games since Crosby was injured, Malkin has 11 goals and 16 assists, and the Pens are 8-5-2. Malkin is now averaging 20:48 minutes per game, just a hair back of the 20:50 Crosby earned when healthy.

“When the game’s on the line, you want your best players to be at their best,” coach Michel Therrien said of Malkin after the win over the Panthers. “When the game was on the line in the third period, Malkin was outstanding.”

Can’t argue that point, or many of the others Malkin has piled up so far.

“The guy’s a horse,” right winger Colby Armstrong said. “I don’t know how he does it. A guy could full-out have the puck, and he’ll battle it away from them somehow. He finds a way to get his stick on it and pull it through guys.

“He’s carrying this team. Every time he’s on the ice, he’s making something happen. He’s playing out of his mind.”

The right move -- Somewhere, someplace, I’m sure there is someone who says Islanders coach Ted Nolan was out of line for missing the first period of Monday afternoon’s game against the San Jose Sharks.

But not in this space.

Nolan missed the first period of play because he was consoling his son Brandon, who was grieving the loss of a close friend, Mickey Renaud, the 19-year-old Windsor Spitfires player who died without warning earlier in the day.

“My son was a teammate and a good friend, and it was tragic,” Nolan told Greg Logan of Newsday. “So I spent some time with (him). Sometimes, there’s a lot more important things to worry about than a hockey game.”

Saluting the fans -- The post-game salute to the fans is said to have originated in Europe and was happily adopted by the New York Rangers for the past couple seasons.

Now, the Nashville Predators are thanking the fans after wins at the Sommet Center.

“We just want to show our appreciation to the fans because they help us win games and because we need them to be successful,” forward Vern Fiddler told John Glennon of The Tennessean. “It’s not just the guys on the ice that win the game. It’s the fans that intimidate the other team and give the home team an advantage.”

Glennon reports the initial Sommet stick salute took place Jan. 5 after the Predators beat Minesota in front of the first sellout crowd of the season. The team’s new ownership group had sent word down earlier in the day, asking the Predators to acknowledge the crowd in some manner if they won. Coach Barry Trotz, not wanting to jinx his team by talking beforehand about a victory celebration, didn’t mention it to players until very late in the game.

“He said something to us from the bench after the game, and he waved us back on the ice,” captain Jason Arnott said. “So we were all kind of looking at each other and going; ‘What are you talking about? Let us off the ice.’ But then we got it and the fans seemed to like it.”

“It may have started in soccer,” Radek Bonk said. “In Europe there’s always a pack of fans that travel for every soccer or hockey game. So if you win, you’re kind of thanking them for coming all that way.”

“The guys, in sort of an (impromptu) way, said we should also do it for the people who come on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when we don’t have sellouts,” Trotz said. “They’re loyal fans and deserve the same respect.”

Some rest, not weary -- We had heard it all before, especially after the Devils signed veteran goalie Kevin Weekes this summer.

Martin Brodeur was not going to upward of 70 games as he had in the previous nine seasons.

Yeah, right. After Wednesday night’s game with the Sharks, Brodeur had appeared in 56 games and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The start against the Sharks was the 20th-straight for Brodeur and the 42nd in 44 games, leaving Weekes with a great view to the game.

“I know what my thoughts were at the start of the year," coach Brent Sutter told Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger, "but, obviously, those thoughts have changed because of the way Marty has played, one. Two, how we’ve handled our practices between games and, three, we don’t pre-game skate. We’ve had time to be smart between games here to make sure that he’s getting the proper rest.”

Home at last -- Sergei Samsonov’s career appeared over after a couple injury-ravaged seasons with the Bruins. A trade to Edmonton was a short-term thing in 2006 and last season in Montreal was a big disappointment. So too was the start of this season with the Blackhawks when Samsonov had just four assists in 23 games.

But a move to Carolina has been like a long drink from the Fountain of Youth. In 19 games as a Hurricane, Samsonov has six goals and seven assists and is plus-6.

“I think management and myself took the chance based on what we knew about him from the past,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said.

“It’s just playing in the right situation, being trusted again and playing a lot of minutes,” Samsonov told the Boston Herald. “I’m having fun again. It helps to get your confidence back. You feel you can contribute to the team and that makes a big difference.”

Winning Hab-its -- Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau was talking with reporters the other day and was saying how pleased he was with his team.

Canadiens' coach Guy Carbonneau was surprised by his team's comeback over the Rangers tuesday night.

“I’m surprised because, obviously, we have 11 guys who weren’t here last year and we still have some young guys who don’t have a full year of experience in the NHL,” Carbonneau said. ““But these guys have responded unbelievably. I’m surprised, but as a coaching staff we’ve put a lot of work into it and I think the players realize the system is good. Their hard work is paying off, and it makes it easy when you take a win, enjoy it for a little bit and then regroup. And if you get a loss, forget it as quick as you can and then rebuild on it.”

After a stunning come-from-behind effort against the New York Rangers on Tuesday, the Canadiens made a lot more believers. Montreal trailed the Rangers 5-0 before roaring back to tie the game in regulation and then winning in the shootout, 6-5.

It was the biggest regular-season comeback in the history of the Canadiens.

“What a great effort, what a great feeling at the end,” defenseman Mike Komisarek said. “My ears are still ringing from that crowd.”

“I think last year, we would have packed it in,” Carbonneau told reporters afterward. “But we’ve been like this since the start of the season. That’s why we haven’t had any long losing streaks. It’s fun to come back. It’s a big boost for our team, especially at this time of year.”

For the Rangers, the overtime loss was a huge disappointment.

“I give the Montreal fans a ton of credit,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “They did what you’re supposed to do.”

“We stopped playing,” Brendan Shanahan said. “We’re guilty of that. And we learned a valuable lesson that really we haven’t dealt with too often this year - we’ve been a very good third-period team and a very good team with the lead. But tonight we sat back and stopped playing. We allowed their good players to have the puck too much. We allowed them to get running starts coming into our end. And we allowed their fans to get back into it.”

“It was a pretty incredible atmosphere in the last 10, 15 minutes,” Saku Koivu told Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette. ”It just shows how quickly things can turn around. They came back last game and tonight it was our turn.”

Another Sutter -- There is the possibility that another generation of Sutters will be on NHL ice in the not-too-distant future.

The Hurricanes drafted Brandon Sutter 11th overall last June, and with Rod Brind’Amour sidelined for the rest of the season, young Brandon might get a chance to follow in the skate steps of his father, Devils coach Brent, and uncles Brian, Darryl, Duane, Rich and Ron.

“He’s a solid two-way player that you can count on in any zone and any time of the game you put him on the ice,” is how Brent Sutter described his 19-year-old son to reporters. “He can create offense for you, he’s responsible defensively, can play on the power play and can be one of your top penalty-killers.

“There has been some communication,” Brent Sutter said of talks with the Hurricanes. “I have a tremendous amount of trust and confidence in Jimmy Rutherford and Ronnie Francis that they’re going to do the right thing for Brandon. I don’t worry about it and neither does Brandon. There’s no guarantee they’ll bring him in. He’s got another year of junior hockey left. ... Timing in everything. It’s their call.”

Whether it happens this season or next, the Hurricanes consider Brandon Sutter to be a legitimate prospect.

“Based on what we’ve seen we project him to play in the NHL next season,” Rutherford said. “Whether he would come right up with us or he goes to Albany (AHL) for the end of the season remains to be determined. There are lots of factors.”

Zidlicky back on track -- Defenseman Marek Zidlicky is picking up his game at exactly the right time for the Predators.

“Zidlicky’s play has been pretty consistent lately in the last 20 or so games,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Points from a defenseman come off the power play or off of transition. Sometimes he will have a real creative idea that will get me a little bit unnerved. I’ve asked him to be consistent in a lot of areas and he has done that. I’m pretty happy with him.”

Zidlicky leads Nashville defensemen with four goals and 30 assists in 60 games.

’C’ you later -- Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said his team will not have a new captain for the rest of the season now that Rod Brind’Amour is recovering from a serious knee injury.

Eric Staal, Glen Wesley and Ray Whitney will serve as alternate captains for the remaining games.

“That’s Roddy’s (job), period,” Laviolette said. “I did not even consider it.”

From the easier said than done department -- Florida Panthers defenseman Bryan Allen offers his take on shutting down Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.

”You have to be aware and pay attention when you are on the ice against them,” Allen said. “The key is taking away their time and space, not letting them wind up and generate any speed.”

The the rest of the NHL – Good luck with that!

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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