PITTSBURGH - If Evgeni Malkin keeps playing like this, Sidney Crosby may have an unexpected challenge when he returns to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup: keeping his job.
Malkin scored two goals and set up another and the Pittsburgh Penguins won successive games for the first time since Crosby's injury by beating the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 Saturday.
Malkin's fourth consecutive multi-point game gave him 69 points for the season, four behind NHL leader Alex Ovechkin of Washington - his former Russian Olympic teammate and the only player drafted ahead of him in 2005.
Since moving to centre on the Penguins' top line after team captain Crosby injured his right ankle while running into the boards Jan. 18, Malkin has seven goals and 10 assists in nine games, and Pittsburgh is 5-2-2 during that span.
"Sid gets a lot of attention. Now that Geno's under the microscope, everybody is seeing how talented he is," linemate Ryan Malone said of Malkin, who has 11 points in four games. "He's right up there with all the best players in the league. He's just proving it now. We all knew that before, but I think everyone else is realizing that as well."
Malkin barely missed getting his third three-goal game of the season, shooting wide of an open net with 36 seconds remaining - causing him to slam his stick into the rear boards in disgust.
"I'm just trying to be the best player I can and I try to score as much as I can," Malkin said, speaking through interpreter George Firman.
Malkin's playmaking and scoring are greatly responsible for the Penguins staying at or near the top of the crowded Atlantic Division race without Crosby. They lead Philadelphia by two points going into Sunday afternoon's home game against the Flyers, who lost 2-0 at home to the Rangers on Saturday.
Crosby, last season's NHL scoring champion and MVP, returned to practice Friday but remains at least several weeks away from playing.
"I don't focus on the fact that Sidney isn't here," Malkin said. "I'm just spending more time on the ice."
He was out there far too much for the Kings, who are last in the NHL with 49 points but 8-4-1 in their last 13. They fell behind 4-0 in the second period and slipped to 3-2-1 on a season-high, eight-game road trip.
The Kings hadn't lost in Pittsburgh since a 4-1 defeat on March 29, 1997, going 5-0 with two ties since then, and were coming off a 5-3 comeback victory Thursday night in Detroit.
"After a great win against Detroit, then we have an afternoon game," Derek Armstrong said. "I can't speak for everyone, but I have to come out with a little more. It took me a while to get going and that's kind of unfortunate."
Malkin, a natural centre who had been playing out of position as a wing on Crosby's line, scored twice on the power play. He also assisted on Malone's 17th goal, about 15 hours after Malone's wife, Abby, delivered the couple's first child, a boy who has yet to be named.
"He's the cutest little thing - I don't know if all the fathers say that - but he's definitely adorable," Malone said.
Penguins goaltender Dany Sabourin won for only the second time in the team's last 20 games, and only his fourth appearance over the span. He made 26 saves despite allowing goals by Armstrong and Brian Boyle in the third period.
"He was hungry to play," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
Malkin made it 1-0 midway through the first with nine seconds remaining on a Penguins two-man advantage that would have lasted 34 seconds. He gathered a rebound at the edge of the right circle and beat goalie Jason LaBarbera with a shot just below the crossbar.
"He was the difference maker," Kings coach Marc Crawford said of Malkin. "He wanted to play well, he had his parents in the crowd. He wanted to put on a show, and he did."
Malkin scored his 30th goal on a one-timer from the right circle faceoff dot - he had 33 goals as the NHL rookie of the year last season - about eight minutes after Malone scored during the opening minute of the second period. Defenceman Ryan Whitney assisted on Malkin's second goal, giving him four points in two games since being singled out by Therrien for playing poorly during a 4-3 overtime loss Monday at New Jersey.
Jordan Staal also scored for Pittsburgh, pushing in a rebound that stayed in the crease with three seconds remaining in the second period, immediately after Sabourin stopped Raitis Ivanans from close range in front of the net.
Notes: The Penguins are 14-3-3 in their last 20 and are 8-1 against the Western Conference. ... The Kings hadn't played in Pittsburgh since a 3-0 win to start the 2003-04 season. ... Malkin has 28 points in 16 games. ... The Kings were 0-for-5 on the power play and are 4-for-45 (8.9 per cent) in their last 10 games.