Malkin-powered Penguins beat Kings, 4-2
Evgeni Malkin celebrates the first of his two goals with Sergei Gonchar yesterday in the Penguins' win.
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Some 17,034 people showed up at Mellon Arena for the Penguins' 4-2 victory against Los Angeles yesterday, but only a couple of those traveled from Magnitogorsk, Russia, to watch it.
And it was clear from the first shift that Evgeni Malkin wanted to make sure those two, who just happen to be his parents, felt that getting to the game had been worth the trouble.
Seemed to work. After watching their son score two goals, set up another and be a commanding presence nearly every time he went over the boards, Malkin's mother and father probably wouldn't have minded if they had hitchhiked here.
"By far, Malkin was the best player on the ice," Kings coach Marc Crawford said. "He was the difference-maker. ... He wanted to put on a show, and he did."
Malkin's eighth three-point game of the season, coupled with a 26-save effort by goalie Dany Sabourin, enabled the Penguins (31-19-5) to win back-to-back games for the first time since stringing together eight consecutive victories Dec. 23-Jan. 10. Not that the Penguins necessarily were fixated on the won-one-lose-one rut in which they had been stuck.
"I didn't really notice," forward Erik Christensen said. "I knew we were sort of up and down."
The victory allowed the Penguins to claim sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of Philadelphia. They will face the Flyers today at Mellon Arena.
The Penguins are 5-2-2 since Sidney Crosby got a high ankle sprain thanks, in large part, to a surprisingly productive power play.
They were 40 for 213 (18.8 percent) with the man-advantage before losing Crosby, but are 13 for 40 (32.5 percent) since he was hurt. Their 2-for-6 showing yesterday marked the fourth consecutive game in which they've gotten two man-advantage goals.
That success is rooted in a pretty basic strategy: Move the puck quickly, put it on goal as much as possible and have bodies waiting there when it arrives.
"We try to keep it simple," coach Michel Therrien said. "We don't try to complicate things. Anytime you try to complicate it, that's when you're going to hurt yourself."
The Penguins went ahead to stay during a two-man advantage at 11:09 of the opening period, as Malkin corralled the puck in the slot and threw it past Kings goalie Jason LaBarbera.
Ryan Malone made it 2-0 54 seconds into the second, when his shot caromed off Los Angeles defensemen Tom Preissing and Brad Stuart before fluttering behind LaBarbera for his 17th of the season and seventh in the past eight games.
"It hit [Preissing's] ankle and went off the other guy's butt," Malone said.
Sabourin preserved the lead with an excellent glove save on Kings center Michal Handzus at 3:47, seconds after Sabourin had been knocked down in the crease, and Malkin got the winner on a slap shot from the right dot during a power play at 11:41.
The goal was his 30th of the season and raised his point total to 69, which meant he trailed NHL leader Alex Ovechkin by just four points going into the games last night.
Malkin has seven goals and 10 assists in the nine games since Crosby was hurt. He has gotten three points in three of the past four games, and has teamed with Malone and Petr Sykora on an effective No. 1 line.
"He's a true leader, offensively," Therrien said. "Good players have the capacity to make sure they're not going to do it on their own. ... That's their job, to make sure their partners play well and help them to perform well."
Sabourin made one of his best stops -- and possibly his most important -- with about 11 seconds left in the middle period, when he threw out his left leg to deny Kings left winger Raitis Ivanans from close range.
Play moved the other way and, 2.7 seconds before the period ended, Jordan Staal flipped in a Christensen rebound to put the Penguins up by four.
"That's a big save for our team," Sabourin said. "Because 3-1 and 4-0 are not the same thing."
OK, maybe that bit of math is self-evident, but Sabourin has reason to be pleased, because he earned his first victory on home ice since Oct. 19.
"I've played really well on the road," Sabourin said. "I had to show what I could do for our fans."
All but two, anyway. He let Malkin take care of them.
Today: Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers.
When: 1:08 p.m. today.
Where: Mellon Arena.
TV: FSN Pittsburgh.
Skinny: The Flyers are 4-0 vs. the Penguins this season.
Inside: Bob Smizik questions Michel Therrien's judgment.
First Published February 10, 2008 12:00 am