Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 7-3 win against the Minnesota Wild at PPG Paints Arena.
* The big story coming into the game was the return of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. But leave it to Evgeni Malkin to steal some of the spotlight.
During Crosby's 28-day absence with a core muscle injury, Malkin was brilliant. He posted 11 goals, 38 points during that span while helping the Penguins go 18-6-4. And he's carried that play over with Crosby's return.
"(Malkin) has had a certain drive since Day 1 of training camp this year," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's really elevated his play through the course of the first part of the season when we've had to endure all these injuries. He's a huge part of the amount of wins we've been able to accumulate to this point."
Malkin scored two goals and three points against the Minnesota Wild. Malkin's two goals (both on the power play) were nice: one showcased his driving to the blue paint and burying a pass from forward Bryan Rust, the other an intended pass that went off of Wild defenseman Ryan Suter's stick and into the goal.
But it was Malkin's pass that will make all the nightly highlight reels. Well, the entire play - not just the pass - is worthy of highlighting.
Malin stole the puck from Minnesota's Mikko Koivu at the Penguins blue line. He pushed the puck ahead and gained inside leverage on Koivu, using his body to shield the Wild forward down the ice. When Minnesota defender Jonas Brodin double teamed Malkin in the near circle, he made a blind, backhand drop pass through Koivu's legs to Rust, who drifted into the slot before scoring.
"It's hockey instincts," Malkin said of his play. "I knew two guys jumped me and I felt there was a player behind. I hoped Rust was behind. I couldn't see him. It was a 'hope pass.' I could feel him behind me."
The takeaway. The hustle. The vision. And the pass. I mean, there's no adjective that would do justice to the pass. So instead, watch for yourself.
Video: MIN@PIT: Rust scores off Malkin's no-look pass
To quote a very near, dear friend of mine: "I mean, seriously?"
* And sticking with the "seriously" track of this game. Watch what Crosby does on this reverse, backhand bank pass to himself off the back of the net. You read all of that correctly. Go ahead, watch.
Video: MIN@PIT: Simon buries Crosby's feed from side of net
Crosby's youth coach in Nova Scotia, Paul Mason, once told me Crosby made a similar play to himself to setup a game-winning goal when he was 10 years old. He's pulling that move in the NHL now. The National Hockey League. Yeah.
Michelle Crechiolo has more on Crosby's spectacular return (is anyone surprised? Anyone? Didn't think so).
* Crosby on fire in return. Malkin on fire all season. Good luck NHL.
"I think Malkin and Crosby have the ability to be the best 1-2 punch in the game, or 1 and 1a I should say," Sullivan said. "They're both generational talents. They were both really good tonight and I don't see why that couldn't occur moving forward."
* And it's not just Crosby and Malkin. But their lines have been also playing lights out. Crosby and Jared McCann had immediate chemistry. Crosby already likes playing with Simon. Malkin and Rust have been phenomenal together.
It feels like everything is coming together for Pittsburgh.
* OK, OK. I know I've already pointed out two incredible passes by Malkin and Crosby. BUT another must-see passing sequence took place between John Marino, Simon and McCann. Breakout pass, drop pass at the blue line and a couple of tape-to-tape passes going through the heart of the slot.
Video: MIN@PIT: McCann taps shot home on tic-tac-toe play
* Here was the Penguins' domination in this game in the form of numbers. There were a lot of them…
400: Career assists for Kris Letang, ranking sixth on the team's all-time list
40: Career-high points for Rust
19: Career-high goals for Rust
32: Games it took for Rust to set career highs in both goals and points
3: Straight games for McCann with a goal, a career high
2: Power-play goals for the Penguins (both by Malkin)
1: Free Big Mac for the 18,545 in attendance thanks to Malkin's second goal of the game
* The game featured the return of former Penguins' player/development coach/assistant general manager Bill Guerin. The current Wild general manager was treated to a "welcome back" video. He responded by holding up a hand-written sign that read: "Thanks yinz!" And he did it on "Pittsburgh Theme Night." Well done Billy G, well done.