After a bad 4-0 loss to New Jersey on Saturday, Evgeni Malkin had strong words following the poor effort. He said they all needed to “stop, look in the mirror and start working.”
The Pens center must have taken a good, long glance at his reflection, because he stepped up and led the team with a tremendous effort, recording two goals and four points in a 4-3 bounce-back win over Minnesota on Tuesday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
“The guy got four points tonight, so that’s pretty amazing,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “He’s such a good player. He’s so dangerous, so good and he just showed what type of guy he is. It was fun to watch him play tonight.”
Even though Pittsburgh was 10-7 heading into tonight, a position Sidney Crosby pointed out that a lot of teams would love to be in, the Pens were not happy with their recent play as they had lost three of four – the culmination being that defeat to the Devils.
Head coach Mike Johnston admitted it was a “low point” in the season, while players termed it unacceptable. Malkin spoke from his heart in the locker room afterward, saying the team wasn’t working hard, taking too many penalties, committing too many turnovers and not playing the system correctly.
“’Geno’ was one of the guys who made comments the other night, and some people were taken aback when a player says our guys were arguing or debating, but that’s natural with a team,” Johnston said. “I was impressed with Geno and his emotion after the game to make comments like that.”
And the thing about Malkin is that he backed up his words with his play. Not only did Malkin talk the talk, he walked the walk. For him to come out with a performance like this when his team needed it says everything you need to know about Malkin’s leadership.
“We shouldn’t be surprised, that’s just the kind of guy he is,” linemate David Perron said. “He’s a standup guy. His English is obviously a lot better over the years and he can talk and state his opinion more, but words are words and he comes in and that was an unbelievable performance by him.”
Malkin was vintage ‘Geno’ from the second he stepped onto the ice for his first shift, as he set up the Pens’ first goal just 72 seconds into the game. Malkin had the puck in the offensive zone and wheeled and dealed with it between the blue line and the circle before placing it on net, where Perron picked up the rebound and tucked it in.
The highlight, however, was Malkin’s second goal of the night. As he was entering the zone, Malkin received a pass from linemate Phil Kessel and with one swift motion, undressed Mikael Granlund with a beautiful toe drag before beating Wild goaltender Devin Dubnyk shortside for what stood as the game-winner.
“I try every game but sometimes the first shift, you shoot and score and it’s a little bit easy,” Malkin said. “It’s good luck tonight for me, I scored and had a couple assists. Every game is a little bit different. But sometimes it’s a hard game, you hit a couple of posts. You need to still focus because it’s just playing 60 minutes, it doesn’t matter what the score is.”
Malkin had been relatively quiet as of late with just two assists in his last seven games, but he wasn’t focused on his lack of production because he was more concerned about the team’s play. Having both come together in one night is a boost for him, and he believes it's something to build off of.
“It’s a little bit more confidence for me,” Malkin said. “It’s always good when the team wins and you score. It’s just one game. Couple more, every game we play better and better. A couple of mistakes tonight, but it’s not a bad game. I want us to play better every game.”