Evgeni Malkin's goal didn't go down as the winner.
It didn't end an extended slump, or even earn him recognition as one of the three stars of the Penguins' 4-2 victory against Boston at Mellon Arena yesterday.
It didn't do much of anything, really, except to put the Penguins in front to stay. And to reaffirm what a remarkable talent Malkin is.
That gets overlooked sometimes, mostly because Malkin shares a locker room with Sidney Crosby.
But Malkin's power-play goal at 13:04 of the second period, when he lashed a Jordan Staal pass behind Bruins goalie Alex Auld from outside the right dot, was the kind only a select few of the world's elite players can score. Usually, when they're having a very, very good day.
"Malkin is sick," Penguins right winger Georges Laraque said. "He can put the puck wherever he wants."
Auld, for one, didn't argue the point.
"What a shot by Malkin," he said. "I got a piece of it. Obviously, not enough."
The two points Malkin's goal helped to earn were critical for the Penguins, who improved to 18-16-2, but there was no holiday discount on their cost.
Mark Eaton, who plays alongside Sergei Gonchar on the top defense pairing, was helped off the ice at 16:24 of the second period with an apparent serious knee injury after Bruins forward Marco Sturm knocked his legs out from under him.
Although the Penguins said there was no official word on the particulars of Eaton's injury, let alone a prognosis, he is believed to have suffered significant ligament damage.
Eaton's injury presumably will open a spot in the lineup for defenseman Brooks Orpik, a healthy scratch for the past three games.
Eaton can be an underrated asset, much the same as Malkin. The twist yesterday was, Malkin was overshadowed by two blue-collar wingers and a backup goaltender, not the teammate widely regarded as the world's finest player.
Gary Roberts, who played left wing on Erik Christensen's line, had two goals and an assist while Laraque, who manned the right side on that unit, added a goal and an assist.
They were named the first and second stars, respectively, while the third went to goalie Ty Conklin. He stopped 28 shots while defeating the Bruins for the second time in four days.
"If you would have told us a couple of weeks ago that Ty would have won us two games within a week, we would have thought it would be a little strange," Christensen said. "But he's played really well."
Conklin's day had a rough start, though, as P.J. Alexsson gave Boston a 1-0 lead at 3:48 of the opening period. Conklin was handcuffed by a Zdeno Chara shot from the right point and the rebound caromed off Axelsson's skate and into the net.
Roberts tied the score at 2:16 of the second, taking a feed from Laraque behind the Boston net and rapping the puck past Auld to end a 29-game goalless streak that was the longest of his career.
"I don't know how many games it's been," Roberts said. "I lose track. But it sure felt good to contribute. It's been a tough start for me."
It just got better as the game went along, though, as he and his linemates were highly visible almost every time they went over the boards.
"We keep it simple," Laraque said. "[Christensen] has all the skills; Gary and I just play down low."
After Malkin put the Penguins in front, Laraque and Roberts teamed up again. This time, Laraque went hard to the net and deflected in a pass from Roberts, who was along the left-wing boards, to record his first two-point game as a Penguins player.
Petteri Nokelainen sliced the Penguins' lead to 3-2 with a goal at 19:06 of the third period, but Roberts sealed the victory by hitting an empty net with just under 10 seconds to go after an inspired effort by Crosby to get the puck toward the Boston net.
That guaranteed the Penguins would enter their Christmas break on a positive note. Had they lost, the time off might have been as enjoyable as a cup of rancid eggnog.
"It's always nice to take a break with a win," coach Michel Therrien said. "The last three games, we went into them looking to get three wins. We got four points out of six. That's not bad."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published December 24, 2007 5:00 AM