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Sykora Remains On Fire For Pens

by Joe Sager / Pittsburgh Penguins

(PRESS RELEASE: Sykora is NHL's second star of week)

It took Petr Sykora 12 NHL seasons to reach 600 career points.

At the rate he’s going, though, it could take him significantly less years to reach 1,200.

Sykora remains red-hot for the Penguins, playing on a line with sizzling Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Malone. Together, the three have been racking up the points -- including 14 combined in wins over the Sabres and Flyers.

The results have been very positive for the team, too, as the Penguins are among the Eastern Conference’s top teams.

“When you’re scoring goals and the team is winning, that’s what you play for,” Sykora said. “I think all of us are having a lot of fun.”

The Plzen, Czech Rep., native hopes the chemistry continues to flow with his linemates.

“I can really relate to Geno because we have the same hockey background. I think the success we’re having as a line is because we are totally three different kinds of players on the line,” Sykora said. “Geno is Geno; I don’t really have to say anything about him because everyone knows how good he is. I can’t say enough about Bugsy and how important he is for our line to do what he’s doing out there – driving to the net, making those plays on the walls, getting those big goals in front and really putting his body out there and really paying the price to make big plays for both Geno and me.

“I try to make plays and try to be in a good position all the time and try to be the third guy high all the time so we don’t give up any scoring chances and try to get some goals. Everybody is doing what he’s supposed to be doing out there and really doing it together. That’s why we are so successful.”

Sykora, Malone and Malkin are certainly different types of hockey players. Sykora brings skill, quickness and a devastating shot; Malone has size (6-foot-4, 224 lbs.), good hands and toughness, while Malkin owns world-class playmaking abilities, vision and a knack for finding the back of the net. Despite their contrasting styles, the three work together well.

“I don’t really know the ingredients for a perfect line,” Malone said. “But, off the ice, we’re all pretty easy-going guys. In practice or the games, if someone does mess up, it’s not the end of the world. We kind of laugh it off and pick each other up when one of us might be down. I think that’s a good thing, too.”

Communication hasn’t been a problem, either, even though all three do not have a common language. Malkin speaks Russian and a little English. Sykora speaks Czech and English and some Russian. Malone speaks only English.

“I keep it in English, but those guys talk back and forth in Russian or Czech or whatever they are talking. I am pretty sure they’re talking bad about me most of the time,” Malone said with a laugh.  

Nevertheless, the three have done their best to turn a potentially devastating situation into a positive for the Penguins. When Crosby was injured Jan. 18, the team could have reeled from the loss of their captain and leading scorer. Instead, these three players seized the chance of increased offensive responsibilities and more ice time. That is especially true for Malone and Sykora, who had floated around the Penguins’ lineup prior to that point.

“For Sykora, in the situation he’s been in, he’s been a lot better,” Malone said. “I think maybe some of his other situations before – maybe he was on the third line or in different situations. Now, including me, we are more in an offensive role where we have to score goals and we have to contribute every night. We try to put pressure on ourselves so the rest of the team doesn’t have to worry about it.”

The three players have been especially effective on the power play. Their hot streak has pushed the Penguins’ power-play ranking to fourth in the NHL through 72 games. The Penguins had converted 20.6 percent of their man-advantage opportunities at that point.

“There’s nothing fancy there. Basically the key to our power play is Bugsy and me in front with Geno and Gonchar on top and Whitney on the side,” Sykora said. “They move the puck on top and get pucks through and shots on net. If you get the wrist shot from Gonchar through, Bugsy and I are two-on-one against the defenseman in front, so there is a pretty good chance we’re going to get that puck. We get every shot down in, so teams will sag down low, which means we will have a one-timer if we go back to Whitney or Gonchar or Geno. It’s nothing really special. We’re just doing the simple things and it’s working for us.”

Malone agrees.

“We’re just trying to keep it simple. I just try to give those guys the puck and go in the offensive zone and try to be around the net and maybe draw a couple defenders toward me,” he said. “With those guys shooting, I try to get the garbage. They have some pretty good shots. Sykora has 600 points, so I think he knows what to do with the puck. He’s been playing great and we’re just having fun out there.”

During his recent hot stretch, Sykora tallied his 600th NHL point. It came on a goal Feb. 4 in New Jersey – the city where Sykora began his NHL career and spent his first seven NHL seasons.

“It seems like a long time ago when I came over when I was 17 and 155 lbs. and learning to play the North American style,” he said. “When you compare that number to the numbers of Mark Recchi or Gary Roberts or some of the other veterans around the league, my number is nothing basically. For me, personally, it’s a pretty big achievement because I know how many ups and downs I went through the last 12 years. I feel very good getting that 600th point, especially in New Jersey playing against Marty [Brodeur]. To do it in that place was very special.”

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