On a night when the Penguins celebrated their 300th consecutive sellout, many memories of the past six seasons were replayed in the minds of Penguins fans.
For those fans, a new memory of center Evgeni Malkin should be added to the vault after his performance Wednesday night.
Malkin, 27, looked like the dominant force that earned him the Conn Smythe trophy following the 2008-09 playoffs, as he guided the Penguins back from a 4-1 deficit with two goals and an assist in addition to a shootout score as Pittsburgh defeated Toronto, 6-5.
The game marked the first time since March 22, 2012 vs. Nashville that Malkin tallied twice in the same game, ending a span of 66 games. He continued his blazing hot month of November, in which he leads the NHL in both points (20) and assists (17).
“Of course when you score, you have more confidence,” Malkin said. “Now I feel so much better and my line, I think we have been playing better every game. Great game and I had fun.”
Malkin’s first goal came on a play we have seen from him time and again. With the Penguins on the power play down 4-1, Malkin shifted to the bottom of the far circle and made himself available for a one-time pass.
Defenseman Kris Letang shifted the puck over to Malkin, who had his stick cocked and ready to deliver a one-time slap shot on Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier. The momentum of the shot shifted Malkin on to one leg as he completed his follow through and watched the puck sail past the right shoulder of Bernier into the top corner of the net.
“I’m thinking and the whole team is thinking it’s not over,” Malkin said, when asked about the mentality on the bench when Toronto went up 4-1. “We changed goalies and after the second period we came to the locker room and said to just play right.”
James Neal scored on the power play in the third period to bring the deficit for Pittsburgh back to one, with Malkin earning his 24th helper of the season on the play.
Neal and Malkin have been clicking ever since Neal returned to the lineup on Nov. 9. The two players are 1-2 in scoring in the NHL since Nov. 9 and have combined for 30 points.
With the Penguins only down one goal, a little more magic from Malkin was all but expected from the 18, 660 fans in attendance.
After the Penguins killed a Malkin high-sticking penalty in the middle of the third period, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz took the ice to take a shift when No. 71 came out of the box.
Kunitz rushed down the right wall and threw a puck on his backhand toward Bernier. Crosby and Malkin rushed to the cage, but Crosby was tied up by a Toronto defender and unable to get a solid shot on net.
This left Malkin all alone in the blue paint to take a couple hacks at the puck after it leaked out from under Bernier and eventually onto Malkin’s blade. The game-tying goal was eerily similar to the comeback Malkin led against Toronto on Jan. 31, 2012, scoring with just seven seconds remaining to tie a game the Penguins had been severely outplayed in at CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins went on to win that game 5-4 in a shootout.
Crosby said the performance by Malkin Wednesday night was nothing short of “dominant.”
“That line was generating a lot,” Crosby said. “The fact that he got that first one (to snap his 15-game goalless drought), got the monkey off his back. Now he can play. He looks like he's having a lot of fun out there. He's not thinking about it. He's shooting when he needs to shoot, passing when he needs to pass. It's good for us.”
Malkin’s three-point night marks the fifth time in six games he has scored multiple points, one week after he was named the NHL ‘First Star’ for the week for his eight points in four games last week. He now sits in a tie for second with Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg with 30 points this season, three points behind teammate Sidney Crosby in the race for the NHL scoring lead.