PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin probably felt like words weren't necessary to describe a game he wasn't certain he would play, only to play it far better than anyone might have expected.
Malkin, held out of Pittsburgh's previous two games with soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, returned at full speed Thursday night and was the best player on the ice for much of the Capitals-Penguins game. All that were missing was a Malkin goal – and a Penguins victory.
"Geno came back and he was flying," said linemate James Neal, who scored twice on Malkin-created goals.
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Despite Malkin's energetic, motivated performance -- no doubt the sight of Russian rival Alexander Ovechkin on the other side factored into that -- the Penguins were beaten 3-2 in overtime, their eighth consecutive loss at home to the Capitals.
Still, watching Malkin flying down the wings, stickhandling through multiple defenders and creating so much offense no doubt energized the Penguins as they continue a furious season-opening stretch of eight games in 13 nights and 13 in 26 nights.
Malkin sat out games Sunday at Edmonton and Tuesday against Florida after scar tissue began to tear in the knee, a common but painful side effect often associated with a ligament repair operation.
Malkin took part in the morning skate but was listed as a game-time decision. Watching him skate effortlessly during the pregame skate made it no decision at all for coach Dan Bylsma.
"I think everybody saw right away that when he is on the ice, he attracts so much attention," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "He makes so many great plays, and he did a great job. We need him in our lineup, definitely."
The Penguins, of course, also need captain Sidney Crosby, who hasn't played since the middle of last season as he recovers from a concussion. Crosby was cleared Thursday for full contact during practice, and the Capitals are anticipating facing him when the teams meet again Dec. 1 in Washington.
"You see a little bit of everything in these games and now the stars are getting back in there," Capitals forward Mike Knuble said.
Malkin showed off a little bit of everything, too. On Neal's first goal, Malkin skated at full speed through the neutral zone before feeding Steve Sullivan, who passed to Neal for a one-timer from the right circle.
"Geno was flying up the middle and dropped it off to Sully and Sully went over to me and I got a quick shot," Neal said.
After Knuble and Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington, Neal tied it at 2-2 late in the third.
"Geno was drawing guys to him again, and he catches me with speed," Neal said. "I managed to get a quick shot off again and it went five-hole. Again, great plays by linemates to find me in open spots."
Malkin did not talk with reporters after the game.
Neal, who has scored four goals in five games after being limited to a lone goal in 20 games after being dealt to Pittsburgh last season, is expected to play on Crosby's line once the Penguins' captain returns. If Neal keeps scoring like this on Malkin's line, he might not want to switch.
"I'm feeling good," Neal said. "Having a full camp in Pittsburgh and getting settled and making Pittsburgh my home, and feeling comfortable, and it definitely leads over to the ice."
So does playing with Malkin, who has a goal and three assists in three games while looking much more like the Art Ross Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner of 2009 than the player who was held to 15 goals in 43 games last season.