The Inside Scoop: Malkin Says Pens Will Make Playoffs
/ Pittsburgh Penguins
Following their 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers last night at CONSOL Energy Center, the Pens are right on the cusp of a playoff position. Pittsburgh’s 51 points places them in the 9th spot in the playoff chase, just 2 points behind New Jersey and Boston for the 7th and 8th spot.
But one player has no doubts that by the end of the season, the Pens will be playing in postseason action.
“Now we are starting to believe that we can win every game,” center Evgeni Malkin told Penguins.com in an exclusive interview. “We have a great team. We started playing better. I believe that we will make the playoffs.”
The Pens picked up a big 2 points last night against one of the teams battling them for a playoff spot in the Philadelphia Flyers. While beating your most hated rival makes the win extra sweet, the 2 points are crucial.
“Every game is important,” Malkin said. “We aren’t in the playoffs. We understand that each point is important. Our rivalry against the Flyers is amazing every time. It doesn’t matter if we play here or in Philadelphia. The Flyers showed us in the first 20 minutes. They dominated. But it’s good how we came back. We focused on the last 40 minutes.”
At one juncture this season the Pens' record ranked 12th in the entire Eastern Conference. But the hiring of new head coach Mike Sullivan has helped spark and rejuvenate the team.
“It was a slow start for the team this year,” Malkin said. “But now we’re playing good. We changed the coach. It takes time to change the system.”
The Pens are 7-3-4 in their last 14 games under Sullivan. The team is starting to show more success on the ice, but it all starts with Sullivan’s demeanor off the ice.
“He came to the team and brought more energy and emotion,” Malkin said. “Sullivan is an emotional guy in the locker room too. It’s good for us. We were down 2-0 (against the Flyers after the first period) and he came to the locker room and pressured us here, showed emotion and we brought emotion to the game. It’s good for the team.”
Malkin scored his 20th goal of the season Monday night in St. Louis on a brilliant individual effort. This year marks the 8th season in which Malkin has hit the 20-goal mark, and the 3rd consecutive. All season long, Malkin has been one of the Pens’ most consistent players.
“I think (Malkin) has been one of our more consistent players,” Sullivan said. “He’s been a threat most nights. He generates a ton of offensive chances for his line and the people he’s on the ice with. He’s a big part of this team.”
BENNETT CLOSE Winger Beau Bennett, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, had another practice with the team Friday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center and afterward took part in some battle drills with assistant coach Rick Tocchet.
“I battled for the last 20 minutes against ‘Tocc,’ he’s a pretty strong guy,” Bennett said. “I withheld that test. I feel pretty confident going forward.”
Bennett said his return date will be a decision for the coaching staff at this juncture.
“He’s had some pretty solid practices with the team. Now it’s a matter of him and I having a discussion on when he’s comfortable enough to play,” Sullivan said.
Bennett had to work off some rust from Wednesday’s practice, but felt like he was making progress.
“That first day I was feeling the rust and wasn’t feeling the puck very well,” Bennett admitted. “Today was a lot better. My conditioning level is good. You’ll never know how well conditioned you are until you play a game.”
Bennett was injured in the Pens’ Dec. 14 game against the Washington Capitals following a hit by T.J. Oshie. He’s missed the past 17 games, but tried to remain positive during his recovery.
“You have to be mentally strong and I’ve been through it enough to try to laugh it off, but it gets frustrating at times,” Bennett said.
THIS ‘N AT *Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and David Warsofsky were absent from the team’s afternoon practice.
*Kunitz, who was hurt late in the third period against Philadelphia last night, has a lower-body injury and is a game-time decision against Vancouver Saturday afternoon.
*Letang will also be a game-time decision.
*The Pens used the following workflow at practice…