Move over Alexander The Great, make room for Magical Malkin.
With a pair of assists in Tuesday night’s 3-2 comeback win over Florida, Evgeni Malkin took over the NHL scoring lead with 79 points (34+45). He passed countryman Alexander Ovechkin, who has 78 (48+30).
“It’s a great feeling to be leading the NHL in scoring,” Malkin said through translator George Birman. “There are still lots of games left and Ovechkin is a good player. He will try to prove he’s the best in the NHL. We’ll see what will happen.”
Malkin continues his torrid play. He saw his five-game goal streak snapped, but extended his points streak to nine games (6+14). He has 38 points (19+19) in his past 20 games.
“I never had a stretch like that over here in the NHL or back when I played in Russia,” Malkin said. “I just want to thank all my teammates who are giving me such great passes.”
Malkin got some extra motivation recently since his parents, Vladimir and Natalia, arrived in Pittsburgh two weeks ago and will stay here until the end of the month.
“Maybe he’s just trying to show off,” teammate Ryan Malone said with a laugh. “He has been a great leader. In practice, he is going out there and working hard. He’s just doing what everyone else does. He’s not trying to put too much pressure on himself, I don’t think. We’re trying to keep it loose like we always kind of do in the locker room. I think we just have a tremendous group of guys in here and it really shows everyone’s character the way we’ve been moving forward since Sid’s injury.”
Since he injured his ankle on Jan. 18, Sidney Crosby has had a good view of Malkin’s ascension up the NHL scoring ranks.
“He has dominated. With each game, he’s getting stronger and that whole line has really stepped up,” he said. “Other guys have played well, but that line is the one that’s really stepped up and he’s making those plays – when you see a guy at the top of his game like that, it’s fun to watch.”
Malkin’s efforts in Crosby’s absence put him in strong contention for the Art Ross Trophy as well as the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. Crosby won both of those trophies last season.
“I think so. He’s really stepped it up,” Crosby said. “It’s not something you want to worry about and he’s not worrying about it. But, he’s playing great hockey and that’s all he has to worry about. You let that stuff take care of itself at the end of the season, but he has been a dominant player.”
The team has followed Malkin’s lead to a 8-4-2 record in the first 14 games without Crosby and shot up the Atlantic Division standings.
“Everyone has really stepped up and taken it to the next level and that’s what we needed and that’s what we’ve done,” Crosby said. “You can’t predict the future, but I think we all believed throughout the season that we were capable of having success and I don’t think we’ve ever doubted ourselves. We’ve just been rewarded for our hard work as we’ve gone along.”
Malkin has rekindled his chemistry with Petr Sykora. The two played together with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Russian Super League during the NHL work stoppage in 2004-05. Malkin had not yet made the leap to the NHL at that point. Meanwhile, Sykora played in Russia to keep his game sharp.
“This is different hockey here. Over there, Geno was basically going behind the net every shift and trying to deke five guys and I just didn’t even come back – I stayed on the far blue line and stood there for 20 seconds and waited until he beat those guys and went into the zone and he fed me for one-timers,” Sykora said. “That’s how we played there. The game is a little different here. I am reading the papers and a lot of people are maybe not surprised, but they didn’t think he’d be this good and take over and carry the team when Sid got hurt. I had no doubts in my mind. I knew how good he is and it would actually surprise me if he didn’t do it. He did it great; he is playing great right now. I am very proud of him.”
Sykora, a Czech Republic native, has an edge playing with Malkin – he can speak some Russian.
“I played in Russia for a year and now I am going for every dinner on the road with Sergei Gonchar and Geno. Obviously, they speak Russian and I can actually speak pretty good Russian right now,” he said. “I can understand everything they say and I can say what I need to say. I don’t speak as fluent as I’d like, but to be with those two guys every day really helps. On the ice, Geno and I speak in Russian sometimes. He was screaming at me in Russian the other game and I didn’t know what to say in Russian back to him, so I yelled back in English.”
Nevertheless, Malkin and his line have been on fire for the Penguins.
“We do have a good line, but everyone else is working as hard as we are,” Malkin said. “The entire team is working hard and scoring.”