Cook: Sharing spotlight with Crosby easy for Malkin to say and do

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NEWARK, N.J. -- It's funny, Penguins MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin didn't look the least bit troubled about having to share the ice or the spotlight Saturday with teammate Sid Crosby at the Prudential Center or Thursday night at New York's Madison Square Garden. Malkin certainly didn't have any problem talking about Crosby's return to a team that, finally, is whole, has won 11 games in a row after easily beating the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, and appears to be without flaws as the Stanley Cup playoffs approach.

"Sid is back two games," Malkin said. "We played the Rangers and the Devils. We dominated both games."

English is Malkin's second language, but he couldn't have said that any better.

The Penguins have such high standards these days that they weren't satisfied with their 5-2 win Thursday night against the New York Rangers in Crosby's comeback game after missing 40 with concussion-like symptoms. "We played terrible," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We gave up 17 scoring chances five-on-five. We can't play that way."

The boys were in much better spirits Saturday after winning for just the second time in their past 10 trips to New Jersey. They got secondary scoring from Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis, three assists from Crosby and another fabulous goal by Malkin on the power play. They also held the Devils to 14 shots on goal. "Today was good," Orpik said. "We played a complete game in every aspect. That's the style we've got to play."

It was enough to make you think this Malkin-Crosby reunion might just work out.

Please say you weren't among those who worried the two wouldn't play nice together.

Some people always are going to reach to find weaknesses in a team that doesn't have any when everyone is healthy. With the Penguins, there was this ridiculous idea that Malkin, who has been the NHL's best player all season, suddenly would climb into the backseat and allow Crosby to drive the team.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

"I'm still going to play my game," Malkin said. "The coach didn't change my line [with James Neal and Chris Kunitz]. We've been playing great. It's been a great year. I feel like I've been helping my team. I want to keep helping my team."

Malkin did just that against the Rangers. He used his extraordinary reach to get a tap-in goal and won a big third-period faceoff to set up a goal by Dupuis. Malkin also had a starring role against the Devils. He won a faceoff against center Adam Henrique that Neal quickly turned into a goal and a 1-0 lead just 1:59 into the game. Later, he scored his 40th goal of the season on a one-timer after taking a great pass from Crosby, who outworked Devils center Jacob Josefson along the boards. It was the first power-play goal the Devils had allowed in 11 games.

"Of course, I'm happy Sid is back," Malkin said. "I've scored 200 goals in the NHL and it feels like Sid has passed it to me on 199. I am not kidding. He's that good to play with."

Malkin has scored 198 goals.

You will forgive his arithmetic mistake, right?

The point is Malkin and Crosby have made magic together long before these past two games. Backseat? What backseat? In the 2007-08 season, Malkin had 47 goals and 106 points as the Penguins made it to the Cup final. The next year, he won the NHL scoring title with 113 points and led the Penguins to the Cup championship as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoffs MVP with 14 goals and 36 points in 24 games.

Crosby had nothing to do with Malkin's production dropoff the two seasons before this one. Injuries were the problem. "It's really hard to play this game at the highest level when you're not healthy," Dupuis said.

Coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged Malkin was "frustrated" at times even though he was getting "plenty of great scoring chances." Malkin left nothing to chance after a February knee injury ended his season last year. He worked out maniacally during the spring and summer.

"Physically, he's just so much stronger," Orpik said. "Maybe the last two years he wore down a little. Now, guys just bounce off him."

The Rangers took a couple of runs at Malkin. Dan Girardi and Brian Boyle lined him up on the same first-period shift. Malkin made the Rangers pay with his goal early in the second period. "You can try to be physical with him, but it's not going to work," Bylsma said. "He's a power player despite his great skill."

Malkin's results have been fun to watch. "He's healthy, he's confident and he's on top of his game," Dupuis said. Malkin's two points against the Devils gave him 87 for the season -- how about that for a coincidence on a day when he talked so much about Crosby? -- and a three-point lead in the NHL scoring race over Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos heading into the Lightning's game Saturday night against St. Louis.

"I feel good, and I'm hungry to play," Malkin said. "I'm ready every shift. I missed a lot of games last year. I want to play every game, 25 minutes a night."

Nothing would please Bylsma more. You think you are happy because of this 11-game winning streak? Imagine being in his shoes and sending out lines that are centered by Malkin, Crosby and Jordan Staal. This was just the 12th time in the past two seasons that the Penguins played with all three. They went 8-3-1 in those games. Malkin, Crosby and Staal combined for two goals and eight assists in the wins against the Devils and Rangers.

How is this for an amazing statistic? The Penguins are 63-3-6 when Malkin, Crosby and Staal each get at least one point in a game.

"I hope we can play together for a long time," Malkin said, sounding very much like a contented man, happy in his skin, happy that Crosby is back, happy with the world.

Ron Cook: . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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