Expectations are always much higher for great players. Evgeni Malkin
, the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner, was dealing with such high standards this week as he went scoreless in two-straight games and lit the lamp only twice his previous 10. His seven assists during that period were almost ignored as questions arose of where his goal-scoring touch had had gone.
On Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators Malkin showed everyone he still has the shooting skills which allowed him to average 38 goals over his first three campaigns. Malkin scored twice against Pascal Leclaire and once on Brian Elliott to finish off his fourth career hat trick in an 8-2 defeat of the Ottawa Senators at Mellon Arena.
“I don’t think he is struggling too much,” Chris Kunitz
said. “I think he has 37 points so I don’t feel too bad for him. He is a good player who finds himself around the puck quite often. When you are a creative player like that pucks go in for you. It’s nice for him to get back on the score sheet.”
Malkin’s performance came on a night where legendary Soviet netminder Vladislav Tretiak, the general manager of the Russian Olympic Team, was in attendance, along with Malkin’s parents, Vladimir and Natalia.
“Geno’s parents and Tretiak can come into the building any time,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Geno seems to be good then.”
Malkin was certainly great for the Penguins on this night as he and Sidney Crosby
torched the Senators with three of the most beautiful passing sequences you will ever see in a hockey game.
While all three goals were of the highlight variety, it was the score which brought a sea of hats flying onto the ice which best signified the dominance Malkin and Crosby had on this game as individuals and how much the Penguins harassed the Senators as a team.
Malkin used his 6-foot-3 reach to deflect a pass intended for Ryan Shannon at the point out to center ice. He then won the foot race with Shannon to the puck, using his body to knock the Senators winger to the ice in the process, allowing he and Crosby to walk in two-on-zero against Elliott.
“It is pretty crazy when you see Sid and Geno going two-on-zero against the goalie,” Marc-Andre Fleury
said. “They pass the puck very good.”
Fleury’s words were an understatement for what happened next.
Malkin brought the puck over the line and sent a pass across to Crosby on the right side. Crosby walked the puck down the seam before delivering a perfect dish to Malkin who just had to direct a shot behind Elliot from just outside the cage. Within seconds the ice was flooded with hats as Malkin’s scoring draught was officially behind him.
As is often the case, Malkin and Crosby once again left their teammates at a loss for words in describing their magnificence.
“That was a great play from Sid to help him get his third one – a nice give-and-go,” Kunitz said. “(Malkin) was out there playing great tonight.”
The third goal might have brought down the house at the Igloo, but Malkin’s first two tallies weren’t too shabby either.
With the Penguins on a power play less than five minutes into the opening period Malkin sneaked down from his position at the left point to the bottom of the far circle and one-timed a cross-ice pass from Crosby across his body under the legs of Leclaire to open the scoring.
“It is open because Sid is such a great passer and he looks for me every time,” said Malkin of being so wide open on the back door. “If I was getting the puck and getting a shot it was getting through.
“My role is to play the point on the power play and I try to shoot from there. Sid made some great passes to me twice tonight. We did well on the power play tonight.”
That goal breathed life into Malkin, whose seven shots were the second-most he has posted this season, and his night just seemed to take off from there.
“I scored on my second shift so I got excited and felt great,” Malkin said. “I hit the post a couple times. I was not nervous. I know how I can play.”
There were no doubts about whether Malkin could shoot or play on his second goal at 18:27 of the middle frame.
Bill Guerin kept the puck alive and found Kunitz streaking down the slot. Kunitz kept the puck in a shooting position as he skated towards Leclaire before laying a perfect feed to Malkin alone in the right circle. Malkin got everything on his one-timer, as Leclaire could only help to get a piece of the biscuit as it eluded his reach and made the score 6-1 in favor of the Penguins.
In the locker room after the game Malkin, who had a potential fourth goal disallowed late in the first period because a penalty was assessed to the Penguins, was able to smile during his postgame scrum with reporters as he talked about being almost disappointed the Penguins have to take the next two days off for the Christmas break.
“It felt great because I have not scored in a bunch of games so I feel great tonight,” Malkin said. “The two days off are bad for me because I am excited. It’s OK I have two days to rest and I will try to keep it going.”
That rest will include having dinner with Tretiak, who no doubt was impressed with a player who is expected to center one of the top lines for Russia at the 2010 Olympic Games.
“We are going to dinner after the game,” Malkin said. “Maybe I should see if he can come to the next game. He is good luck for me.”