After being stuck on the bench while the Penguins killed off six minutes worth of power plays – which included a 3-on-5 disadvantage – in the second period of Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders, Evgeni Malkin was more than ready to go when his team got a call of their own.
“I sat a long time because we played the PK,” Malkin said with a smile. “Great job by the PK tonight. I have fresh legs and of course I want to play.”
Shortly after Cory Conacher was sent to the box for hooking, the Isles got caught with too many men on the ice – giving the Pens a 5-on-3 of their own for 1:22 minutes. And Malkin went to work.
Just 15 seconds in, Sidney Crosby found Malkin at the left circle. Malkin then sniped a wrister past goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
“It’s my job, you know?” Malkin responded when asked if his first instinct was to shoot when he got the puck. “I’m open and if ‘Sid’ passes to me across, it’s a good chance to shoot because I have lots of time. Just one step and shot.”
On the next play, winger Patric Hornqvist did a fantastic job of chasing down a puck at his own blue line before getting to the net, where he put a textbook screen on Halak and got a piece of Malkin’s laser from the right circle with his stick.
“(He’s) unbelievable because he’s a good shot, moves the puck and he’s coming to the net,” Malkin said of Hornqvist, who finished the game with two goals and an assist. “Every time I have the puck, he goes to the net. If Sid has the puck, he’s going to the net. Tonight he scored because he is going to the net.”
That meant Malkin scored a power-play goal and set up another in a 55-second span to bring his team from a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish (an empty-netter by Hornqvist at the end of the game made the final score 3-1).
“When you get a 5-on-3 opportunity as they had and then we had right after, those are turning points,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “We scored and they didn’t. It was the difference in the game.”
Malkin now has a four-game point streak (2G-5A-7P) to start the season. It’s his longest point streak at the onset of a season since a five-game point streak at the beginning of the 2007-08 campaign.
While Malkin was certainly dominant offensively, his defensive game was strong as well. With the Isles on a 3-on-1 rush, Malkin sprinted down and made a diving play to sweep the puck off Travis Hamonic’s stick. He then leapt up and finished his check on Hamonic before chipping the puck to safety.
Malkin had missed all of training camp with an undisclosed injury, but was able to play in the regular-season opener after just two practices. While his conditioning continues to improve, he still has a little ways to go before he’s in prime game shape.
“It’s my fourth game right now so of course I feel better, but the third period is still a little bit tough,” Malkin admitted.