Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Penguins fans express their Christmas wish where the franchise's future is concerned.
It is the fantasy of just about every local child with a pair of skates, from Harmarville to Neville Island to Schenley Park.
To be standing, stick raised, on Mellon Arena ice, with a capacity crowd flinging hats in your direction.
Wearing the golden triangle of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For Ryan Malone, the Upper St. Clair native who learned his trade on all the above ponds and many others, that became a blissful reality when he scored three times for his first NHL hat trick in his team's 7-4 manhandling of the New York Islanders last night.
"You know what? Putting on this sweater is still a thrill for me," Malone said at his stall in a far quieter moment afterward. "This is the same city where me and my brother were playing knee-hockey since we were 3 years old. It's my team. This is where I always wanted to be, and I consider myself lucky."
Perhaps never more than on this occasion.
"What a thrill."
There was much else to this victory, the Penguins' fourth in a row. Sidney Crosby and Mark Recchi each put up a goal and three assists. The offense as a whole continued its torrid pace, running up its goal total during the winning streak to 24. And Jocelyn Thibault made 28 saves for his first victory since Nov. 10, 2005.
To be sure, though, this was, as coach Michel Therrien called it, "a nice night for Ryan."
If the Penguins have their way, it will be the first of many like it. With a roster lacking size and skill on the wings, Malone's emergence into a regular force would be immeasurable in meaning.
"He's a big part of this hockey club, the things he can bring us as a power forward," Recchi said. "That's so important."
"He's got to bring that consistency every night. It's got to be there," Recchi continued. "And I think he knows that now."
Malone had 22 goals in each of his first two NHL seasons, then opened this one with a dud. He went scoreless in the first 11 games -- interrupted by a six-week stretch lost to a broken wrist -- before snapping his drought with a gimme-putt of a goal Wednesday, then breaking out in a much bigger way.
And that, Therrien said, had much to do with how quickly he has meshed with Crosby and Recchi.
"That line really clicks well," Therrien said. "They feed off each other, and I like the way they're protecting the puck. The chemistry is there."
Malone did not dispute that.
"This was just one of those games where you felt you could just put your stick down, and make it happen."
The first strike came at 7:22, when Malone took a Crosby pass in full stride, glided to the left dot, then beat goaltender Rick DiPietro -- decisively -- high to the glove side.
The Islanders evened the score on Miroslav Satan's tap-in at 12:24, but Crosby needed 11 seconds to nullify that. He collected a Recchi drop pass between the circles, then whipped a low shot that caromed off both backpedaling New York defensemen and behind DiPietro.
That extended Crosby's goal-scoring streak to six games.
Recchi made it 3-1 at 16:32 by flicking a shot from the center point, through a Colby Armstrong screen, for another power-play goal.
The Penguins, fast and furious on the forecheck from the drop of the puck, held an 18-7 edge in shots at the intermission.
"Everybody was on board at the start of the game," Therrien said. "We really got out of the gate."
The lead extended to 5-1 in the second period on goals by Jordan Staal at 5:52 and Maxime Talbot 27 seconds later. And Malone's second goal, strikingly similar to his first, came at 8:45 of the third.
The latter marked Recchi's 800th career assist, the announcement of which drew a thunderous ovation from the overflow crowd of 17,028.
"A pretty nice feeling," Recchi said. "This is my home now, and that meant a lot to me."
Recchi has lived in Fox Chapel for years, even while playing for other teams.
The Islanders -- "Out of sync for two periods," as coach Ted Nolan described them -- awoke in the third for three goals in a 2:21 span from Tom Poti, Jason Blake and Mike York. That cut the Penguins' lead to 6-4 with 6:44 left in regulation.
But Malone's final goal 2:17 later deflated any intrigue. This was another roof shot, and it came after a deft stickhandling display by Crosby while four-on-four.
"Sid's not the easiest guy to get the puck from in that situation," Malone said.
Tonight in Montreal, the Penguins can match their season-best winning streak of five, set Oct. 19-Nov. 1.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Ryan Malone was only just beginning when he scored against Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro in the first period last night at Mellon Arena. He went on to record his first hat trick.
Click photo for larger image.
Matchup: Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7:08 p.m. today, Bell Centre, Montreal.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9 FM).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Cristobal Huet for Canadiens.
Penguins: Took 3-0-1 streak into game last night vs. Islanders. ... C Sidney Crosby had six-game point streak (5 goals, 10 assists, 14 points) before last night and has 3 goals, 6 points in six career games vs. Montreal. ... Are 2-2-1 on second night of back-to-back games.
Canadiens: Are on 3-0-2 streak. ... Through yesterday, Huet led NHL with .933 goals-against average, and team led league with nine short-handed goals.
Hidden stat: Canadiens have had 76 consecutive regular-season sellouts dating to the 2003-04 season.
Penguins numbers in their four-game winning streak:CategoryNo.Shots142Shots allowed112Goals23Goals allowed15Goals/power plays6/25Power play pct.24.0Penalty killing17/22Penalty killing pct.77.3Crosby's points14
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com .