Evgeni Malkin made a world-wide statement Tuesday night.
In front of 13,190 fans at Mellon Arena and a national-television audience, the Penguins rookie dazzled once again – providing an instant classic with his third-period goal in a 4-2 win over New Jersey.
Sidney Crosby, who was just inside his own blue line, fired a crisp pass to Malkin, who was just outside the Devils’ blue line. He took the puck at full stride into the zone and split two defenders. As New Jersey’s Brad Lukowich skated in on the play, Malkin slid the puck to his backhand and blew past Lukowich. With a clear path to the net, Malkin slid the puck to his forehand, then his backhand, then his forehand. He stretched around and backhanded the puck past a bedazzled Brodeur with 9:19 left to play.
Malkin was knocked to the ice momentarily. He spun around, got up and punched the glass in celebration of his highlight-reel goal.
“When I came right from the bench, I had lots of energy. I saw Sidney took the puck and a bunch of guys from New Jersey went to the bench to make a change,” Malkin said through translator George Birman. “He just made a great pass. I saw just one defenseman was there and he was in a bad position, so I just took the puck and scored the goal.”
The breathtaking tally brought all the Penguins to their feet.
“That was a big goal. There’s not too many players who can score like this,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “You could see guys on the bench saying, ‘Wow.’ Even the coaching staff, too. It was a great pass by Sidney and a great goal by Malkin.
“I didn’t teach him that,” he added with a smile.
Crosby, who set up the play with his precision pass, watched the whole thing unfold.
“I got a pretty good view. I was doing every move with him. He made a great play,” he said. “First, he muscled past a guy at the blue line. I don’t know who the defenseman was, but he totally caught him going the other way, then cut back and finished it off nicely on Brodeur. That was a pretty goal and a big one, too.
“It was a spectacular goal and hopefully we can keep seeing a lot of those,” he continued. “That was a pretty one.”
Crosby was impressed and questioned whether he could match the move.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to work on that, maybe,” he said with a laugh. “He was just reacting and that’s the thing. He was just reacting to where the defenseman was coming from and where he felt the pressure. He has quick feet and quick hands and stayed with it. It was a pretty one.”
The goal made Malkin the first Penguins rookie to score a goal in each of his first four games. The last NHL player to score in his first four games was the Rangers’ Steven King in 1992.
“Of course, I am surprised a little bit. I wish I can do the same thing next game,” Malkin said. “I hope the luck is not going to turn around from us and for me.”
Malkin, who assisted on Crosby’s goal in the second period, was promoted from second-line center to first-line left wing so he could get more ice time with Crosby. The two Penguins youngsters have enjoyed instant chemistry. The duo has paired up on four goals. Crosby assisted on three of Malkin’s four goals, while Malkin has assisted on one of Crosby’s tallies this year.
“It felt good. I think we did pretty well out there for playing pretty much a full game for the first time,” Crosby said. “We still have to make some adjustments, especially against a team like New Jersey. That is a good test for any line because you have to be so positionally sound in order to make plays. We did a pretty good job of that.”
Crosby was impressed how well Malkin fit in on the left wing with Colby Armstrong on the right.
“For the most part, I thought we felt pretty good out there. We can’t even communicate yet. People have to remember that,” Crosby said. “We can’t talk and say, ‘Go there! Go there!’ It’s tough. We’re just reading off each other right now and kind of adlibbing and doing an OK job.
“We’re pointing at a plastic board on the bench. It’s something where you don’t think you’re ever going to be in that position, but at the same time it’s pretty amazing we’re able to read off each other like that,” he continued. “As a unit, we’re all out there filling lanes and taking ice. We don’t really have that much of a chance to really talk about it. We’re going to improve from here on out, I’m sure.”
Armstrong did not score, but played very well with Crosby and Malkin.
“Army’s a visual learner. He needs the board, too,” Crosby joked. “Army and I have been playing together for a long time. We pretty much know where we need to be. Each time, you make small adjustments. Communication is key and hopefully we’ll all get better.”
Malkin seemed to have little trouble adjusting to a new role on the wing.
“I just played one game on the left wing. I hope the next game and the next game will be easier and better. I think I am going to get used to it,” he said. “It was much different than what I am used to, but I had big help from the coaches. They were telling me what to do. I try to do all their instructions. We’re sharing the puck on the ice so I think it’s going to be better and better every game.”