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Pens Lean on Malkin in Crosby's Absence

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

What will the Pens do after losing the best center in the National Hockey League? 

Rely more on the best center in the National Hockey League.

Pittsburgh has be the best 1-2 punch down the middle in the NHL with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, both of whom have previously won league scoring titles and MVPs.

So with Crosby out of the lineup indefinitely with a concussion, the Pens can turn to Malkin to provide leadership both on and off of the ice.

"Most teams don't have that luxury," said forward Chris Kunitz, who has played with both Crosby and Malkin. "'Geno' is an important guy for us. He's going to get more offensive zone time for himself with 'Sid' being out and showed (Thursday) that he can change a game at any time."

Kunitz is referring to Malkin's performance in the Pens' season-opening banner-raising 3-2 shootout victory against the Washington Capitals at PPG Paints Arena Thursday night. Malkin scored a nice breakaway goal, added an assist and chipped in a shootout tally in the victory.

"(Malkin) had a real strong game and that's what it takes to win when key guys go down," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "Other guys need to step up. Our top guys need to be at their best. I thought Geno was at his best last night. He was a threat almost every shift he was on the ice."

The coaching staff leaned on Malkin heavily in the game, as evidenced by his 21:45 minutes of ice time. And he responded to the added workload.

"Coach gave me lots of time. I tried to show my best," Malkin said. "It was a good game, a good win.

"I'm glad I scored. It gives me more confidence."

Malkin, 30, understands the added responsibility expected from him with Crosby out. He welcomes that challenge, and believes the team will be fine.

"It's not easy to play without Sid," Malkin said. "The power play is very important for us now. We had a couple mistakes (against Washington), but we have great leaders here, great young guys." 

Malkin wasn't pleased with his performance in the World Cup of Hockey this summer. He tallied one goal and three points in four games as Russia failed to medal in the competition. 

"I wasn't happy with how I played in the World Cup," Malkin said. "I lost the puck in the neutral zone, wasn't skating well.

"I didn't show my game. I'm a little (upset). Mad at myself. But I worked hard the last two weeks and I want to play more with the puck."

A motivated and energized Malkin is exactly what the Pens need right now, and what the rest of the league fears.

"Now I feel so much better. My confidence has come back," Malkin said. "I'll try to play better every game." 

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