Penguins Notebook: Malkin's game goes beyond numbers

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NEW YORK -- Penguins center Evgeni Malkin does not, as a matter of course, speak with reporters after game-day skates, so there was no way of knowing how he feels about his game after he left the ice around midday Monday at Madison Square Garden.

There was, however, no need for Malkin to assess his work so far this season, because Penguins coach Dan Bylsma offered a fairly vigorous defense of how he has performed.

"We'd all like to see [Malkin] put up bigger numbers and have the type of season he had two seasons ago," Bylsma said. "But I see him doing a lot of things better in his game this year than last year."

Malkin entered the Penguins' game against the New York Rangers Monday night at the Garden with eight goals and 14 assists in 24 games, good for a tie with defenseman Kris Letang for second place on the team.

Those numbers would be fine for most players, but Malkin ranks among the game's most gifted forwards and won the NHL scoring title in 2008-09. Despite Malkin's relatively lackluster output, however, Bylsma said the upgrades in other facets of his play should not be overlooked.

"[The] consistency with which he works on the defensive side of the puck is much better," Bylsma said. "I think he's a guy we count on in the defensive zone to play against other teams' good players.

"The one area he can improve on, and he's making strides, is his decision-making with the puck, and when he takes the opportunity to try to make an offensive play vs. making the smart play, but there's a lot of good in his game."

A star for Crosby

Penguins center Sidney Crosby was named the NHL's third star of the week for the period ending Nov. 28.

Goalie Ondrej Pavelec and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien of Atlanta were named the Nos. 1 and 2 stars, respectively.

Crosby had four goals and three assists in four games, all Penguins victories, to take over first place in the NHL scoring race.

No change for Fleury

Not so long ago, a significant portion of the Penguins' fan base seemed to feel that goaltending coach Gilles Meloche should lose his job because of Marc-Andre Fleury's early struggles.

The calls for Meloche to be replaced have all but disappeared since Fleury began to get his game in order, but at least one thing hasn't changed: The way Meloche works with Fleury.

Meloche said Monday that the training regime he employs remains essentially the same, regardless of whether the goaltender with whom he is working is struggling or on a hot streak.

"We just try to work on the same basic things, on the habits," he said. "There's nothing different on the ice."

Top choice

Letang's offensive play has gotten a lot of the attention this season -- understandably so, considering that he entered the Rangers game with 22 points, third-most in the league at his position -- but he has been working with Brooks Orpik on the top defensive pairing, as well.

That means that duo often is on the ice with Crosby's line, which frequently is matched against the opponent's top unit. Consequently, Crosby and his linemates regularly get the benefit of having Letang make outlet passes that trigger offensive rushes.

"There have been times when the shutdown pair is not as gifted [in terms of] puck-moving skills and passing ability as Kris, and that has maybe led to some frustration at times for our skilled players, not getting the puck," Bylsma said.

"Having that kind of ability [in Letang] gives our offensive players an opportunity to make plays, as well."

Tip-ins

Former Penguins right winger Bill Guerin attended the team's game-day skate, but apparently still has not decided whether to pursue a post-playing career in TV or scouting. ... The Penguins scratched forwards Arron Asham (illness) and Mike Comrie (unspecified injury) and defenseman Ben Lovejoy.



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