A highly-touted Penguins rookie begins his NHL career with a loss to Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, but picks up a point in the process.
Last year, Sidney Crosby made his NHL debut against New Jersey in a 5-1 loss to Brodeur and the Devils. Crosby did not score, but he recorded an assist on a Mark Recchi goal.
Fast forward to Wednesday night. Youngster Evgeni Malkin suffered defeat in his first game, 2-1, at the hands of Brodeur and the Devils. He had a point, too, as he found the back of the net off an assist from – you guessed it – Recchi.
Crosby shook off that first loss for an outstanding freshman campaign that saw him rack up 102 points.
Penguins fans only hope Malkin continues on a similar path.
“It was a great game. It was great hockey,” Malkin said through translator George Birman. “Both clubs played great hockey. Unfortunately, we lost, but we lost to a good team.”
While the Penguins and Devils engaged in a hard-fought game, the focus remained on No. 71.
“I thought he did well. When we were out there, we created a few chances,” Crosby said. “We probably could have had a couple more goals. It’s not going to happen overnight; we have to get used to each other, but he’s a pretty easy guy to play with.”
Crosby and Malkin, both centers, had the chance to play on the same line immediately, much to the surprise of the 17,030 fans in attendance. Crosby opened the game on Malkin’s left wing, but moved back to center the top line on his following shift, while Malkin anchored the second line.
“I didn’t expect that, but it was nice for us to start out there,” Crosby said. “Hopefully, it will be one of many shifts we play together.
“He just played his game, which is what he needs to do. A lot of times, he’s able to beat guys with his speed or stepping out of the way,” he continued. “That’s just smarts and hockey sense and he has it. It’s just going to be one of those things he improves on because he’s going to get used to the way guys play and the way teams play him. I think he can only get better.”
Malkin was thrilled to start the game on a line with Crosby. The two had been practicing together on the first power-play unit, but not in even-strength situations.
“It’s a pleasure to play with Sidney,” Malkin said.
While it took three periods for Crosby to register a point on Brodeur a year ago, Malkin only needed two.
Although, he nearly scored in the first period on a deflection. The puck sailed over Brodeur’s right shoulder, but ricocheted off the crossbar and fell harmlessly on the ice away from the net.
“It’s the second time I played against Brodeur. The first time I played was in the Olympics and he is a great goaltender,” Malkin said. “He makes great saves. He’s a great goaltender.”
Malkin finally beat Brodeur with 1:22 left in the second period. Skating down the right wing, he worked a give-and-go with Recchi, who fired the puck on goal. Brodeur made the initial save and bent forward to apparently smother the puck. Malkin saw it squirt loose from Brodeur’s grasp and dashed to the crease and poked the puck through Brodeur’s legs and into the net.
The 20-year-old Russian celebrated his first NHL tally with a jubilant fist pump.
“He gave me a good pass and I gave him a good pass and [Recchi] shot the puck. The puck just came off the goaltender and I just went to the net and shot the puck,” Malkin said. “When I [was getting ready] for this game, I was nervous. That first goal is very important. In the future, I think it will be easier [on my nerves]. It was great support from all the fans.”
Crosby was one of the first players on the ice to congratulate Malkin.
“Good players find ways to score and find the puck in close. A lot of guys might have skated by the net, but he saw there was an opening there and he made a good play to jump in the play and not give up on it and poke it through,” Crosby said. “That comes from speed and having the knowledge to play. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot more of that.
“It’s good for him to get that first goal under his belt and move on. I think there was a lot of buildup for this and now that he’s played, he knows what he has to do out there and he’s looking forward to many more games.”
Crosby and Malkin remained separated mostly throughout the night after the first shift, save for one power-play opportunity. However, Penguins coach Michel Therrien sent them out on the ice together late in the game to generate some offensive chances.
“I thought [Malkin] was feeling more comfortable as the game went on. He is going to get better and better,” Therrien said. “I tried to bring a sparkplug to our team [by putting them both out there late]. I am not going to say every game is going to be like that, but if I figure we need to get something going, maybe I am going to play those guys together.”
Malkin, who kept fans on the edges of their seats with dazzling stickhandling, showed he has power, in addition to grace. His slap-shot with 8:32 remaining sailed high of the net and shattered one of the glass panes behind Brodeur.
“I did that just once before in a practice with the Russian national team,” Malkin said. “This time, I just think it was old glass.”
Nevertheless, Malkin’s performance left a permanent impression.