Penguins' Malkin grounds Jets with 5 points
Kris Letang celebrates after scoring Saturday -- a recurring theme in the Penguins' 8-5 rout of Winnipeg at Consol Energy Center.
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Evgeni Malkin was playing his 400th game in the NHL.
It was as good a time as any, he seemed to figure, for a career retrospective.
To offer up five-plus seasons of excellence in microcosm.
So Malkin set about scoring one goal and setting up four others Saturday in what became an 8-5 Penguins victory against Winnipeg at Consol Energy Center.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Dwayne Roloson for Lightning.
- Penguins: Are 1-1 vs. Tampa Bay, both on road. ... Are 5 for 12 on power play over past four games. ... Evgeni Malkin has seven-game goal streak at home, one shy of his career best.
- Lightning: Had points in seven of previous eight games before playing Saturday in Buffalo. ... Is 2-3 in second half of back-to-back games. ... Martin St. Louis had 17 points in 11 games before the Buffalo game.
- Hidden stat: Penguins are 5-0-1 at home vs. Southeast Division teams.
All of which gave Malkin his third five-point game this season, in addition to running his team-high goals total to 30 and his league-leading points total to 67.
Which should have made for a pretty satisfying afternoon for him.
And it did.
On some levels, anyway.
But Malkin could not overlook how the Jets had scored five times -- including the first two goals of the game -- which is something the Penguins can't allow opponents to do very often if they are intent on getting into the playoffs, let alone hanging around in them for a while.
"We need to play better defense," Malkin said, "because five goals is too [many]."
And he hardly was the only one to bemoan the porous defense.
"We realize we didn't play a great game," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said.
Letang's team got away with it because its offensive output exceeded that of the previous four games combined (six) and matched its biggest outburst of the season (in an 8-3 victory against Buffalo Dec. 17).
And it did not look all that difficult, because, for much of the game, the defensive efforts of both clubs looked a lot like five guys trying to hold back the ocean with tennis racquets.
"Both coaches will take the VCR tape and burn it," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
In the case of Winnipeg's Claude Noel, he likely could have done it with the fire he was breathing after the game.
"Quite frankly, I find it disrespectful," he said. "The players being disrespectful to each other, the goaltending, everything.
"We hung [goalie Ondrej Pavelec] out to dry. I'm not going to sit here and blame the goaltender. Eight goals, yeah. He should be the most livid guy in the room. Teammates doing that to you, just awful."
The Jets did not pick a good day to allow nearly as many odd-man rushes as they did shots on goal (39), because the loss kept them four points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff berth, pending the outcome of eighth-place Toronto's game against Montreal.
The Penguins, meanwhile, nudged one point ahead of sixth-place New Jersey and climbed to within two of fourth-place Philadelphia in the East.
They could pull even with the Flyers by beating Tampa Bay tonight at Consol Energy Center, if that victory would be coupled with a Philadelphia loss in regulation at Detroit.
Of course, if the Penguins want to defeat the Lightning, they likely should plan on being a bit more stingy defensively.
"To give up five is unacceptable," forward Craig Adams said. "If we play that way [tonight], they have some guys who will burn us, as well, so we have to tighten it up."
At the same time, Tampa Bay likely will not want to replicate Winnipeg's plan for containing Malkin, whatever it might have been. Assuming there actually can be an effective strategy for doing that, which is open to debate because of Malkin's blend of size, speed and skill.
"With a small, skilled guy, you want to get in his face and take away his time and space, put the body up against him," said Adams, a fairly accomplished defensive forward.
"A big, strong guy, you back off and take away his options. But the guys who can play it both ways -- the [Jaromir] Jagrs, the Malkins, the [Joe] Thorntons, Rick Nash, guys like that -- what are you going to do?"
Watch them celebrate a lot of goals, probably.
Picking Malkin's most impressive point Saturday is not easy, but it might have come when he won a faceoff cleanly to set up a James Neal goal that tied the score, 2-2, at 16:42 of the first. After all, not so long ago, his winning percentage on faceoffs was akin to Shaquille O'Neal's success rate on free throws.
"He beat me clean," Jets center Jim Slater said. "It's a play we knew they were going to try. It's just one of those things that doesn't happen very often, but, when it does, you feel bad about it."
The Jets had a lot to feel bad about. So did the Penguins, but two points can dull a lot of pain.
"We're in the business of winning," Adams said. "So, we're a lot happier than we would be if we lost."
First Published February 12, 2012 12:00 am