The Pittsburgh Penguins
know if they want to hang onto first place in the Atlantic Division, they’re going to have to find some answers for the rival Philadelphia Flyers
After going a perfect 8-0 last season against the orange and black, the Penguins couldn’t muster a single lead in losing their first four against the Flyers in 2007-08. It finally changed Sunday, and not surprisingly, Evgeni Malkin
deserves much of the credit.
Malkin scored his 31st of the season and assisted on the Penguins’ other three goals, including Kris Letang
’s tally with 7:46 left that wound up as the game-winner in a 4-3 win over the Flyers at Mellon Arena.
and Sergei Gonchar
also scored for Pittsburgh, outscored 20-8 in its previous meetings against Philadelphia and motivated to change its fortunes.
"When we play against them, we have problems like people throwing popcorn on our bench," Malkin said through an interpreter. "I don't really like to play against them. ... I don't like that team. It's something that's a little bit extra."
The Penguins survived a pair of goals by R.J. Umberger
to increase their lead over the Flyers in the Atlantic to four points. They are three points ahead of second-place New Jersey and improved to 6-2-2 since Sidney Crosby
was sidelined with a high ankle sprain.
"They are playing really good with Crosby out of the lineup," Umberger said. "It's a little surprising."
It isn’t when you consider the stats Malkin has put up since the impetus to lead the Penguins was placed upon his shoulders. Malkin has eight goals and 21 points in the 10 games the team has been without its captain – on top of that, he’s registered 15 points during a stretch of five straight multi-point games.
"He's upgraded his game a big notch, so give him a lot of credit," said coach Michel Therrien
, whose team won its third in a row. "He showed everyone that he is a great player. He is showing that he can be a great leader."
Malkin is also putting on a show for his parents, with seven points in two games since they arrived from Russia for a two-week stay.
"Hopefully we're going to win all these games and I'm going to play good," said Malkin, playing in front of Mom and Dad for the first time. "I've never had a stretch like this over here in NHL or back in the Russian League," where the 21-year-old star played before joining the Penguins last season.
continued his own strong play in goal for the Penguins, running his record to 14-3-3 after starting this season in the minors. Conklin yielded Scott Hartnell
’s goal with 33 seconds left that brought the Flyers within 4-3, but held on from there and finished with 27 saves.
After Umberger staked the Flyers to a 1-0 lead on a power play 6:34 into the first ( 700K
), Malkin began to take control of the game. Before the period ended he helped the Penguins even the score by drawing several defenders as he skated down left wing and finding an open Sykora in the right circle. Sykora took Malkin’s pass and beat Martin Biron
at 16:20 for his 18th of the season ( 700K
Malkin also drew a penalty against Hartnell late in the first that led to Gonchar netting his ninth 38 seconds into the middle period ( 700K
). It marked the first time this season Pittsburgh had a lead against Philadelphia, and Malkin extended it to 3-1 with 1:17 left ( 700K
) in the second when he converted Sykora’s pass and scoring from the slot while slipping to his knees.
Umberger’s 11th and second of the game in the opening minute of the third drew the Flyers closer ( 700K
), but Letang, a rookie defenseman, restored the two-goal lead ( 700K
) off another Malkin assist. The Penguins had some breathing room until Hartnell’s late score ( 700K
"He's a world-class player and a big concern," Flyers coach John Stevens
said of Malkin.
He’s also hot on the tail of the League’s leading scorer, fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin
of the Washington Capitals
. Malkin’s four points gave him 73 for the season, tied with the Ottawa Senators
’ Daniel Alfredsson
and just three behind the 76 posted by Ovechkin.
“I’m going to try,” Malkin said when asked if he could overtake the man drafted with the first pick in 2005, one spot ahead of Malkin.
With the streak Malkin’s on, it would seem unwise to bet against him.
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.