Penguins clip Columbus, 2-1, to extend home streak to 6

The NHL named its three stars from last week Monday, and there was nary a mention of Evgeni Malkin.

That was completely understandable, given that he missed two of the Penguins' four games because of an unspecified injury.

Even so, after being cited as the league's No. 1 star in each of the previous two weeks, Malkin seemed to take the oversight personally.

Enough, at least, to conjure a terrific effort on their first goal in what became a 2-1 victory Monday night against Columbus at Consol Energy Center.

The victory was the Penguins' sixth in a row at home, their longest such streak of the season, and raised their record to 21-10-1.

They have won their past four games against the Blue Jackets -- their best run against Columbus -- and lead second-place Washington by nine points in the Metropolitan Division.

Matt Calvert of Columbus spoiled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's bid for his fourth shutout this season when he scored from the front lip of the crease with 56.5 seconds left in regulation.

Calvert got the goal seconds after Fleury had come within inches of scoring one, as a puck he launched toward the Blue Jackets net, which goalie Curtis McElhinney had vacated in favor of an extra attacker, skidded just wide of the left post.

"I was hoping it would curve [into the net] at the end, but it didn't happen," Fleury said. "One day. One day, it's going to go.

"It was a slap in the face [to give up Calvert's goal after missing the empty net], you know? I'm disappointed to not get the goal and then right away, they score.

"The main thing, though, is that we got the win, got the two points. That's what matters."

Calvert's goal prevented the one Malkin scored at 4:16 of the second period from being the winner, but didn't detract from the quality of Malkin's effort.

Malkin took a cross-ice feed from Jussi Jokinen in the neutral zone and carried the puck down the right side. After getting around Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin, he went hard to the net before flipping a forehand shot past McElhinney.

"You get an elite guy with a lot of steam ... he's got a lot of options," McElhinney said. "The one I tried against him didn't work."

Although the goal wasn't enough to guarantee Malkin a star when the league hands out its next batch in six days, it likely earned him some quality airtime on the highlights shows.

"He scored a big goal there, a great goal for us," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "It was good to get him back in the lineup."

Having Malkin return was particularly important because his usual right winger, James Neal, spent the evening in street clothes, as he served the first game of a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston forward Brad Marchand in the head while skating past him in the 3-2 loss Saturday against the Bruins at TD Garden.

Rookie Jayson Megna filled Neal's spot with Malkin and Jussi Jokinen, and Jokinen stepped into Neal's place on the No. 1 power-play unit.

Neither team scored during the opening period, when the Penguins were flat and Columbus ran up a 10-8 advantage in shots.

"We got caught, maybe, talking too much about the last game instead of the game coming up," Dupuis said.

"They started well, and we obviously weren't ready for it."

Malkin has at least one point in each of his past 10 games, although that's not recognized as an active streak because of the two games he missed.

Even more impressive is that Columbus, which had not allowed a goal in its previous two games, pieced together a shutout streak that consumed had 162 minutes and one second before Malkin ended it.

Columbus' next streak didn't last nearly that long, however, because Sidney Crosby scored what proved to be the winner at 8:52 of the third.

He drove to the net as Dupuis was throwing the puck in front from the right side, and it caromed off Crosby's right leg and into the net for his 16th.

"That's what happens when you drive the net," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "Sometimes those goals go off of you, or even the opponent."

And sometimes the goals come off the stick of a guy who seems like he's intent on making a point.

Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG.

First Published December 9, 2013 10:13 PM

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