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Penguins need more from Malkin against Flyers

by Alan Robinson /

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin, the Art Ross Trophy winner, is off to a quiet start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Malkin, who secured his second scoring title by scoring 25 points in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ final 14 games, didn’t have a point during a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday.

He had three shots in 22:11 of ice time, but effectively was shut down by Flyers center Sean Couturier's line -- even though Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had the last line change and could create the matchups he wanted. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette so trusts Couturier that the rookie played more against Malkin's line than any other NHL forward this season.


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Don't look for Laviolette to try to change that for Game 2 at Consol Energy Center on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) -- even if Bylsma will be trying to implement multiple changes to try to create more scoring opportunities for Malkin, who was second in the League with 50 goals.

Malkin's linemate James Neal, who had a career-high 40 goals this season, took six shots, but couldn't find the back of the net in 20:40 of playing time. On Malkin's other wing, Chris Kunitz had five shots in 20:30 of ice time.

The chances appeared to be there, but the goals weren't -- and it is this line, even more so than the newly reassembled Sidney Crosby line, that the Penguins count on to produce goals.

Malkin equally was quiet off the ice, as he didn't talk to reporters after the game or following practice Thursday. But Kunitz wasn't ready to credit entirely the effective work of the Couturier line, which also features former Penguin Maxime Talbot and Zac Rinaldo, for his unit's collective zero.

Kunitz's solution: Let Malkin be Malkin. Only three times in the regular season did Malkin go consecutive games without a point.

"We didn't create enough chances by breaking the puck out. We were maybe batting a bunch of pucks toward each other, but we were not making crisp, clean plays and giving us possession in the neutral zone," Kunitz said. "That’s where Geno [Malkin] really dominates, when he controls the puck and comes through the neutral zone and can find guys with speed. We have to get back to be able to work and get him pucks earlier so he can skate and back them off."

Some of the Penguins also were self-critical of their reluctance to go into a defensive mode after they opened a 3-0 lead by the end of the first period. By continuing to press for more goals, they felt they allowed Philadelphia to return to its preferred style of chipping the puck in and going on the forecheck.

"If you watch their first half of the game, they tried to make plays off the rush and it wasn't working," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "If you watch the second half and the overtime, they chipped the puck in every single time. They played a simple game and created everything off their forecheck. That's something we can learn from."

And when the Penguins did get the puck back, they often tried to do too much too soon, rather than being patient and letting their offense develop.

"I think you have to look more at winning the game 3-0 rather than chasing the fourth goal," Orpik said. "If you play well defensively and play responsibly, you're going to force their team to take chances and you're going to get chances offensively. We got a little too excited when it was 3-0 there. Our physicality in the first half of the game was great, and it was almost non-existent in the second half."

However, forward Steve Sullivan said the problem was the highest-scoring team in the League backed off a bit in its intensity, thus allowing the Flyers to alter successfully the momentum and the way the game was being played.

"I think we did lay off the gas pedal a little bit," Sullivan said. "I think we tried to protect the lead and not play the way we want to play. Protecting the lead can be done two ways. It can be get into a defensive-first mentality or it's play in the offensive zone. When you're playing a good team like Philly, you might as well try to play in the offensive zone and keep the puck 200 feet away from your net."

Regardless of what they should have done -- continuing to push the pace or shifting into a defensive mode -- the Penguins said the one thing they should have done most was win the game.

Losing Game 1 hasn't been a hindrance to them in the past -- the Game 1 winner has failed to win each of their last four playoff series -- but allowing a game like this to slip away on home ice can have serious consequences in a short series.

"It's 1-0 for them, but that's the beauty of the playoffs," forward Pascal Dupuis said. "They didn't get two points. They didn't get three wins. They got one, and they're ahead by one, but let's tie it up."

The Penguins came back to win each of the last three series in which they lost Game 1, against Ottawa in 2010 and Washington and Detroit in 2009.

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