Cook: Showtime for Penguins' healthy superstars


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Don't you feel cheated?

The Penguins are 5-0 at Consol Energy Center. Each win has been better than the one before it. The 4-3 shootout win Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks was better than the 3-2 win Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers, which was terrific.

Talk about crowd-pleasers, those Penguins.

But seeing the magic of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the first eight games this season can't help but leave you feeling at least a little bit gypped, right? Do you believe the game Saturday was just the 89th of a possible 220 games since the start of the 2010-11 season the two played together? Injuries robbed each of a significant chunk of the prime of his career. They also stole a lot of fun from us.

The good news is Crosby and Malkin are making up for the lost time. The Penguins are 7-1 in large part because Crosby has been otherworldly and Malkin extraordinary. Crosby had another goal and two assists against the Canucks. Malkin set up a power-play goal by Chris Kunitz and scored the winning goal in the shootout.

It has been amazing to watch the two best players in the world on the same ice on the same day or night.

It's no wonder the Penguins are 59-25-5 in the 89 games Crosby and Malkin have played together.

"It's been fun," Crosby said, when asked about playing with Malkin this season. "Hopefully, we're giving teams tough decisions about who to match up with. We know we're supposed to create and produce. I think individually we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform."

It's impossible to win the NHL's MVP award and scoring title in eight games, but Crosby has given it a heck of a shot. His 17 points -- seven goals and 10 assists -- lead the league. He has had four consecutive games with multiple points and at least one point in each of the eight games.

It is the best start of Crosby's wondrous career.

Crosby attributes his success to a full offseason of conditioning and a full training camp. He also said it is comforting to play with longtime linemates Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. "It's not like we have to re-invent anything out there."

Malkin hasn't had the pleasure of playing with the same linemates. He loves playing with right winger James Neal, but Neal was injured early in the opening game against New Jersey Oct. 3 and hasn't played since. Young winger Beau Bennett also skated on Malkin's line but has missed the past three games with an undisclosed injury. Malkin played Saturday with Jussi Jokinen and Chuck Kobasew on his wings.

Malkin met the media briefly after the Canucks game and quickly lamented not having "Nealsy" on his line. "Different linemates all the time," he said. "But it's getting better every game."

It certainly hasn't stopped Malkin from making a big impact. Crosby has received nearly all the attention -- deservedly so -- but Malkin has been playing wonderful hockey. His pass from behind the net set up Kunitz's goal Saturday. His long reach and hard work keeping the puck in at the blue line in a 4-1 win Thursday night at Philadelphia led to his assist on a Jokinen goal, the first of the game. He jumped on a loose puck on the power play in the win against Edmonton and one-timed in the deciding goal in the third period.

Malkin has three goals and six assists and has at least one point in six consecutive games. He has 26 shots on goal in the eight games. That's a nice number.

"He's been strong," Crosby said of Malkin. "He finds ways to get to the net. When he gets down low with the puck, there's no way to stop him."

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo couldn't stop Malkin in the shootout. Malkin went from his forehand to his backhand to easily beat him. The interesting thing? Malkin used to hate shootouts and wasn't very good in them. Now, he's one of the best in the NHL.

"I always liked them," Malkin corrected his inquisitors. "I just wasn't scoring and I would get mad because I wasn't helping my team to win."

It's a matter of confidence, Malkin said. Before the 2011-12 season, he was 7 for 29 in shootouts. Since then, he is 10 for 14.

Confidence, indeed.

Crosby and Malkin, along with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, have been so good that the Penguins have been able to win without All-Stars Neal and Kris Letang. Crosby sees no reason why the team can't keep rolling. He's strictly looking ahead to the next game Monday night at home against the Colorado Avalanche. He refused to look back.

"I don't have any regrets," Crosby said. "If [the injuries] didn't happen, it would be nice, absolutely. But they did, and I've moved on. I'm past that, way past that."

Far enough past the injuries that Crosby isn't afraid to put a number on the games he would like to play with Malkin this season.

"82 ... 82 would be real nice."

penguins - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM


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