It was difficult for those on the Penguins bench to see what happened to leading scorer Evgeni Malkin a little more than midway through the second period of a 3-1 win against the New York Rangers yesterday at Mellon Arena.
- Matchup: Penguins at New York Rangers, 7:08 p.m. today, Madison Square Garden, New York.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Ty Conklin for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.
- Penguins: Are 8-5-1 on second day of back-to-back games. ... Are 7-5-2 on road in games decided in OT or shootout. ... Evgeni Malkin has 5 goals in 7 games vs. Rangers this season.
- Rangers: Have won 32 of their past 48 home games. ... Brendan Shanahan (650) and Jaromir Jagr (641) rank 1-2 among active goal leaders. ... Were second in NHL in team faceoff percentage (.526) through yesterday.
- Hidden stat: The Penguins are 3-3-1 vs. Rangers going into tonight and have lost the season series just once in past nine seasons (3-5 in 2005-06).
Fortunately for them and for Malkin, the incident left him with nothing more than eight stitches.
After a tussle for the puck with the Rangers' Brandon Dubinsky behind New York's net, Malkin ended up on the ice on his back. Dubinsky's skate raked across Malkin's face, slicing his left cheek.
"I started to feel the blood going down my face, so I knew right away [there was a cut]," Malkin said through interpreter George Birman.
Malkin left his stick on the ice and threw off his gloves as he rose. He cupped his cheek with his hand and began skating along the boards as if to reach the runway to the Penguins' locker room, but then made a left turn and headed across the ice to the bench.
Play continued until a penalty whistle at 14:07. That's when Malkin made it to the locker room, where he got stitched up in time for the third period.
Dubinsky apologized before the opening faceoff of that period.
"He just said it was [done] accidentally and he was sorry about that," Malkin said.
It was the second time this month Malkin had a close encounter with an opponents' skate -- at a time when such incidents are particularly harrowing after Florida's Richard Zednik survived a horrifying, life-threatening cut to his neck last month.
In just about the same area of the Mellon Arena ice March 16, Malkin had fallen to one knee when Philadelphia's Mike Richards went airborne and clipped him in the chin.
"It's kind of bad luck," Malkin said. "Maybe I should go to church."
The statistics will say forever that Penguins defenseman Kris Letang had his first NHL fight against Rangers defenseman Marc Staal.
Letang will always beg to differ.
"It was not a fight. It was just wrestling," Letang said.
When the whistle blew after Malkin's injury at 14:07 of the second period for a hooking penalty against New York's Jaromir Jagr, tempers flared among those on the ice, and Letang sprang to the aid of center Sidney Crosby.
"[Christian] Backman punched or cross-checked Sid, so I jumped to him and I didn't see Staal coming from behind," Letang said. "I could have thrown some punches when he was down, but that's not respectful."
Letang and Staal were assessed fighting major penalties.
Staal is the older brother of Penguins forward Jordan Staal.
Was that the last time Penguins fans will get to boo Jagr every time he touches the puck?
There is speculation the Rangers captain, former Penguin and future Hall of Fame right winger will not return to New York next season.
Jagr, 36, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has said he will meet in New York this week with Anatoly Bardin, general manager of Avangard-Omsk, the Russian Super League team where Jagr played during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
But he has been coy about next season -- and whether he has played his final game at Mellon Arena.
"First of all, I never said I'm leaving anywhere, but you [reporters] are already kicking me out," Jagr told the New York Daily News.
"Maybe you guys don't want me here, but there are 29 other [NHL] teams where maybe I might have a chance.
"And, if not, I still have a house [in Pittsburgh] and I'm going to have to sell it. So I guess it's not going to be my last time in Pittsburgh."
Malkin's 46th goal, in the first period, was his 30th at home. Only five other Penguins have reached 30 goals at home in a season: Mario Lemieux (four times), Kevin Stevens, Jagr, Mike Bullard and Rick Kehoe. ... The Penguins scratched goaltender Dany Sabourin and forward Jeff Taffe as Ryan Whitney continues to practice and play at left wing rather than his usual spot as a defenseman. The Rangers scratched defensemen Marek Malik and Jason Strudwick, and forwards Blair Betts and Colton Orr. ... The Penguins will have a Fan Appreciation Night for their final regular-season home game Wednesday.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.