WASHINGTON -- Kris Beech is not ready to proclaim that, after several years of traveling around the American Hockey League, he has found a home in the NHL.
Neither is his coach, for that matter.
But Beech, the centerpiece of the package Washington sent to the Penguins for Jaromir Jagr in 2001, has made his way back to the Capitals and seems to have at least a toehold on steady work with them.
"I'm working at it," Beech said. "I just keep trying to do what I do and work hard."
He has been a good fit with Alexander Semin and Matt Pettinger on the No. 2 line, although his statistics have not been overwhelming. Before the Capitals faced the Penguins last night, Beech had two goals and nine assists in 21 games, while averaging 12 minutes, 49 seconds of ice time per game. He also had won 51.5 percent of his faceoffs.
"He's likely playing as well as he's ever played in his career," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. "That line has created some second-line offense, which we didn't have."
The last time Beech spent a full season in the NHL was 2001-02, his first with the Penguins. He then commuted between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre until the fall of 2005, when he was traded to Nashville.
A few months later, the Predators packaged him with a first-round draft choice for Washington defenseman Brendan Witt, which meant Beech's career path had gone full circle.
"It's a little ironic," he said. "But it's a weird business."
Malone's play improves
There's no mystery about what Penguins forward Ryan Malone accomplished in his first six games this season, statistically or artistically.
Malone's forearm was broken during a fight with Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla in game No. 7 Oct. 21 and he did not return until the Penguins' 3-2 loss to Florida a week ago.
And, to the delight of all concerned, he hasn't looked anything like the guy who started the season.
"He's performing well," coach Michel Therrien said. "He hasn't scored a goal yet, but we know that if he keeps playing that way, goals will come."
Asked recently what he remembered about his play during the first half-dozen games this season, Malone laughed and said, "I try not to." That's an understandable reaction, but doesn't explain why he was such a non-factor.
"You can't really put a finger on it," he said. "Sometimes, you think you're working hard, but you can always give that little extra."
Penguins center Sidney Crosby remains the top vote-getter among Eastern Conference players in fan-balloting for the NHL All-Star game Jan. 24 in Dallas, with 532,068. Evgeni Malkin is fifth among Eastern forwards with 271,375, and Marc-Andre Fleury is third among goalies with 254,581. ... Winger Nils Ekman, who missed the Penguins' 4-3 overtime victory in Atlanta Saturday and practice Sunday because of illness, joined his teammates for the game-day skate.
An oldie, but goodie
The Capitals, like the Penguins, are optimistic about their future because they have an excellent stable of young talent.
But one of the most important components of Washington's success this season has been its oldest player, goalie Olaf Kolzig.
Kolzig entered the game last night with a 10-7-3 record, 3.15 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. There are other numbers that are even more impressive.
Consider that before facing the Penguins, Kolzig was 8-0-1 when facing more than 35 shots (4-0-1 when forced to make 40-plus saves) and had averaged 37 stops during his victories.Mitchell Layton, Getty Images
Ryan Malone, who recently returned from a wrist injury, skates with the puck in last night's game against Washington.
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