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Malkin Strong in Return to Action

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Evgeni Malkin not only returned to the Penguins’ lineup on Saturday afternoon against the Carolina Hurricanes after missing the previous two games with a foot injury, he came back with a vengeance. Malkin was easily the best player on the ice for either team, scoring the Penguins’ second goal, firing a game-high seven shots on net and dashing and darting through the Hurricanes like the Malkin who took home the Art Ross Trophy last season as the top scorer in the National Hockey League.

Prior to Saturday, Malkin’s last game action occurred during the waning seconds of the second period on March 14 in Tampa Bay. On that afternoon Malkin took a Kris Letang shot off his foot, forcing him to miss the remainder of that contest, as well as both ends of the Penguins’ back-to-back road swing through New Jersey and Boston on Wednesday and Thursday.

Against the Hurricanes Malkin hardly looked like a player who less than 48 hours prior could not participate in the morning skate at TD Garden in Boston.  

“I felt good,” Malkin said. “My foot felt stronger and I played a stronger game. It wasn’t sore until the last minute (of overtime).”

In overtime, Malkin survived a scare when he landed awkwardly into the boards midway through the period. It was the same foot which was already hurting.

“My skate got caught a bit,” Malkin said. “I was a little off balance when I hit the boards. My foot was a little bit sore. That was unlucky but I am OK.”

Malkin says that although he will not skate with the team at practice on Sunday, he does expect to be good to go on Monday when the Penguins face the Detroit Red Wings on the road at Joe Louis Arena for the first time since dethroning the Wings as Stanley Cup champions on June 12 of last year.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Malkin said. “I am starting to feel OK. I will keep putting ice on my foot. I’m sure I will be fine. I don’t think I will practice tomorrow. I will go to the gym and work there.”

Malkin’s inspired play, particularly early in the third period with the Penguins attempting to break a 1-1 deadlock, was a critical element in the Penguins skating away with one point on Saturday afternoon.

Back on a line with Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky, Malkin gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead 6:55 into the final period following a great forechecking effort by the unit.

Fedotenko and Ponikarovsky worked over the Hurricanes defense below the goal line before Fedotenko moved the puck to Malkin spinning out of the corner along the far boards. Malkin walked the puck around the left circle and then fired a shot over the left shoulder of Carolina goaltender Justin Peters. Fedotenko and Ponikarovsky provided screens for the shot.

“He is a great skilled player,” Ponikarovsky said. “We were trying to make his job easier too. We were trying to get those loose pucks for him to create those chances.”

“Geno looked good,” Fedotenko said. “He skated strong. He was strong on the puck. I think it was a pretty good game for him.”

- Jason Seidling

Staal Hits 20

For the third time in his career, 21-year-old Jordan Staal hit the 20-goal mark during Saturday afternoon’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

With just 17.5 seconds left in the second period, Staal fired a one-timer from the far circle past Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters to tie the game, 1-1. Staal received the pass from Penguins newcomer Alexei Ponikarovsky in the slot to score the power-play goal.

Captain Sidney Crosby, who set up the goal by sending the puck to Ponikarovsky from the top of the zone, said that he is always impressed with Staal’s ability to score big goals in game after game.

“That says a lot about his consistency,” Crosby said. “He’s a solid two-way player that has some great offensive talent that compliments his defensive responsibilities, as well. It says a lot about him as a player.”

In his first four NHL seasons, Staal has recorded 29, 12, 22 and 20 goals.

PK Effectiveness

Pittsburgh’s penalty kill came up huge for the team throughout the game’s 60 minutes, hindering Carolina from scoring game-changing goals during each of their five power plays.

It was in the third period, however, that the penalty kill proved to be the biggest difference maker in the outcome of the game. During this time, the Penguins successfully killed four of the Hurricanes’ power plays.

After killing three penalties at the beginning of the period, the Penguins kept the Hurricanes away from the net for two more minutes after Pascal Dupuis picked up a penalty for boarding with 2:54 remaining.

Crosby acknowledged that the team’s penalty kill has consistently spared the Penguins from giving up crucial goals during the finals moments of games.

“It’s really been strong for us for a while now,” he said. “When you get those chances – those situations where you have to kill later in the game – it’s a big momentum shift and makes a huge difference in the game. The penalty kill has done a great job at keeping us in games and getting those big kills when we need them.”

The Penguins have killed the last 20 penalties against the team straight, as well as 29 of their last 31 penalties (93.6 percent).

- Caitlin Kasunich
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