Penguins Notebok: Malkin's in the middle while Crosby's out
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price gets down to stop the puck deflected by Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin during Wednesday's game at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
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MONTREAL -- The Penguins played their fourth consecutive game without Sidney Crosby Wednesday night.
And, for the second time in three evenings, Evgeni Malkin opened the game is Crosby's usual spot between Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis as the Penguins took on the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Malkin's performance this season has not begun to approach that of Crosby -- Malkin entered the Penguins' game against Montreal with 35 points, while Crosby has a league-leading 66 -- but he does have the ability to be a major force in the offense.
"He's a guy who can do some amazing things on the ice," said Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill, a former Penguin. "You want to be aware when he's out there. His skills set is pretty awesome."
When Jordan Staal made his 2010-11 debut Jan. 1, Malkin was on his right side, but Malkin moved back to his natural position of center before the Penguins' 4-2 loss to Boston Monday.
"We're not strong down the middle right now without Sid there and [Malkin], minus [his struggles in] the faceoff circle, is good in that position of the ice and is a threat there," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Kunitz and Dupuis have played with Malkin, although not for extended stretches, in the past, and Kunitz acknowledged the transition from Crosby to Malkin could not truly be seamless.
"When you play with a guy for 40 games, then play with somebody else, obviously there's going to be an adjustment," he said.
Dupuis and Kunitz might have a little more time to get comfortable with the switch, however, because there is little evidence at this point to suggest that Crosby will return when the Penguins visit Boston Saturday afternoon.
"He's getting better," Bylsma said. "But we're not going to progress forward until the [concussion] symptoms subside."
While it has been eight months since Montreal upset the Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, at least some of the Penguins still carry scars from that defeat.
That is why their game against the Canadiens was more than just No. 45 of 82 during the regular season.
"You think about it, still," left winger Mike Rupp said. "There are particular instances where guys [display] a little bit of arrogance, and you want to beat them anytime you can.
"It's an opportunity for us to get points that we need in the standings, but also you want to beat teams that knocked you out of the playoffs."
Kunitz expressed a similar sentiment.
"Obviously, you think about it," he said. "Because it's someone who ruined your chance to win a Stanley Cup."
Bylsma felt the Penguins "played well defensively" in their first three games without Crosby, but clearly was not happy that they generated just three goals during that time.
And he did not have a hard time figuring out why that happened.
"We haven't gotten to front of the net very well," he said. "We haven't gotten the extended offensive zone time like we like. When we have gotten shots, the goalies have seen them a lot.
"It's a mentality. Sometimes guys who are pressing to score go farther away from the net to get the puck, and the opposite needs to happen."
Gill was a high school quarterback in Massachusetts and is an unabashed fan of the New England Patriots, so it is a given that he expects the Patriots to defeat the New York Jets Sunday and advance to the AFC championship game. And when New England gets there, Gill has a pretty good idea of which team he expects to be waiting for the Patriots.
"Probably the Steelers, right?" he said. "It always goes through there, right? But you guys have to go through us."
First Published January 13, 2011 12:00 am