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Pens' Big Names Have Big Games

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

WILKES-BARRE – Welcome back, Evgeni Malkin.

The Penguins center scored twice to lead Team Gold to a 3-2 victory over Team Black in the Black and Gold intra-squad exhibition game on Monday night at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

The contest marked Malkin’s first real game action since suffering ligament damage in his right knee in a collision with Buffalo’s Tyler Myers on Feb. 4, and his emphatic return to play did wonders for his confidence.

“It was important because I have not played in a long time,” Malkin said. “This is just my first game, my first whole game. Of course it’s good that I scored and had a couple scoring chances. I think I played not bad. I just need to work hard and continue to play the same.”

Before Monday’s game, Malkin participated fully in all of his group’s practices and scrimmages that have taken place since training camp opened on Sep. 16.

He said following those skates that his knee felt about 90 percent and that he should be ready to go for the season opener. And after playing a full 60 minutes of much more fast-paced, physical and intense hockey on Monday, Malkin said his knee still feels good.

“I’m glad to play a whole game,” Malkin said. “My knee is not bad. I’m used to a couple skates and pressure to my knee and it’s not sore or nothing.”

Malkin's first goal came with 10:51 left in the first to give Team Black a 2-0 lead after Joe Vitale tallied minutes earlier. On the play, linemate Sullivan skated the puck around the net, came out and found Malkin positioned at the back door -- and he tapped it home for the score.

Malkin's second tally, scored with 12:44 left in the third, proved to be the game-winner. He once again worked hard to get open in the slot, where he was able to quickly snap home a Geoff Walker feed to put Team Black up 3-2.

Malkin's teammates and coaches were glad to see him hit his stride so quickly.

“He was dancing tonight a little bit,” said Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden, who coached Team Gold to victory along with Tony Granato,

“He made a lot of plays. He had some good chances on the power play. It was just good to see his energy and his compete level for the majority of the game.”

While the former league scoring champion and playoff MVP Malkin looked his old self back on the ice, another one of the Penguins’ big names – Jordan Staal – also put forth a stellar performance.

He scored both of Team Black’s goals, one being a power-play tally in the second period and the other a tap-in into an open net off a pretty Tyler Kennedy feed in the third.

“I thought we had a great game,” Staal said, who centered Chris Kunitz and Jason Williams. “It was back and forth and it was a lot of fun. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it as well.”

Reirden was pleased with the dominant effort the Penguins’ two star centers put forth.

“If you look at how they scored their goals, they were hard-working goals that they were able to manufacture,” Reirden said. “I was just encouraged by the way they scored the goals. For me, that just shows a lot about their excitement to get the season going and how they took this game serious.

“That’s how it should be. … You hope that your top players play like top players, and they certainly did tonight.”

Staal joked that he and Malkin had a wager going into tonight’s game, saying that whoever was on the losing team had to untie the other player’s skate laces on Tuesday.

But friendly bets aside, Staal admitted that these games – especially when they’re close-fought battles like this one – bring out the competitive edge in everyone, even if they are playing against teammates.

He did everything he could to help his team win, and that willingness to compete and battle is what Reirden liked to see from both Staal and Malkin.

“Every guy here is competitive,” Staal said. “Tempers can go. It’s a game of hockey and it can always get intense quick. That’s what happens out there sometimes.”
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