Penguins' Malkin promises his game will improve

Says he needs to do better than just 2 shots on goal

WASHINGTON -- Sidney Crosby scored a goal, had a team-high six shots and was a presence all over the ice Saturday in Game 1 of the Penguins' second-round playoff series against Washington.

Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals was conspicuous in the opener, too. It's hard to miss a guy who launches nine shots on goal and puts one of them behind the goalie.

Crosby and Ovechkin are two of the finest players in the world, and responded as expected to being placed on this stage, with these stakes.

Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, who makes his way into most conversations about the relative merits of Crosby and Ovechkin, did not, although he'll have a chance to rectify that when the teams meet again in Game 2 at 7:08 tonight at the Verizon Center.

Malkin picked up an assist Saturday, but had just two shots on Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov and was on the ice for both of Washington's even-strength goals.

His play was not the primary reason the Capitals won the game, 3-2, but he obviously didn't do enough to prevent Washington from winning, either.

"I think [my performance] was OK," Malkin said yesterday, "I felt good. The first game, maybe I was a little bit nervous.

"But next game, [I will] be better. Maybe play a little bit harder, maybe have more hits. Maybe [get] more shots and play aggressive."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, asked pointedly to assess Malkin's work in the opener, never mentioned Malkin in his response, speaking instead to the importance of getting improved play from throughout the lineup.

"We need to get better in the offensive zone, taking pucks to the net and maintaining possession," he said. "[Washington] did a good job defensively, being aggressive.

"Pretty much every line needs to get better at that for us to do what we think we can do in this series."

Predictably, Crosby declined to criticize Malkin's play in Game 1. So did Malkin's other teammates, most of whom said they expect him to have a significant and positive impact on the series.

"I thought he played well," Crosby said. "It's always easy to point fingers and talk about guys when you lose, but the fact is it comes down to a couple of plays.

"If we don't execute, then you're pointing fingers. We're not worried. He's a great player and he's consistent."

Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who probably knows Malkin better than anyone else on the team, pointed out that he doesn't make a habit of being a non-factor for extended periods, although it did happen in the Eastern Conference final last spring.

"I don't have any concerns, because usually when you don't see him in one game, the next game he comes and plays harder and scores a couple of goals," Gonchar said. "I hope that's going to be the case [tonight], because the guy is really important to us."

Malkin won the regular-season scoring championship and is tied with Washington winger Alexander Semin for second place in the playoff scoring race, trailing only Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim.

Nonetheless, he doesn't have a goal in the past four games, although Malkin said he isn't particularly troubled by that dry spell.

"It's hockey," he said. "I don't think about that. I know the next game, maybe I'll have a couple of chances and score."

Precedent suggests that is hardly out of the question, and the Capitals certainly seem to be aware of the possibility.

"He's the type of guy, even if you don't notice him for a couple shifts, he'll come out and score a big goal," said Washington forward Matt Bradley, a former Penguin.

"You can never be satisfied with keeping him off the scoresheet or thinking you're playing well against him, because in a split-second he can do something amazing."

The Penguins have seen that happen often enough to know that Bradley is correct. But they wouldn't mind if Malkin reminds the rest of the hockey universe of that in Game 2.

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published May 4, 2009 4:00 AM


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