Penguins Notebook: Malkin could grab scoring lead
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Penguins center Evgeni Malkin owns an eight-game scoring streak, the longest active one in the NHL.
If he stretches it to nine when Florida visits Mellon Arena tonight, Malkin also will have at least a share of first place in the scoring race.
He trails Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin, the league leader, by one point, 78-77. The Capitals are off until the New York Islanders visit them tomorrow.
- Matchup: Florida Panthers at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Ty Conklin for Penguins. Tomas Vokoun for Panthers.
- Penguins: Have gone 4-1 in past five at home. ... D Sergei Gonchar and C Evgeni Malkin are tied for league lead with 34 power-play points. ... Lead season series, 2-0, and can win it for first time since going 2-1-1 in 2000-01.
- Panthers: Are 15-16-1 on road, including 3-0 loss at Mellon Arena Jan. 5. ... RW Nathan Horton has at least one goal in six of past seven games. ... Have allowed five or more goals 10 times.
- Hidden stat: Thirty-four of Florida's first 60 games have been decided by one goal.
"I wouldn't be too shocked [if Malkin passes Ovechkin]," left winger Maxime Talbot said yesterday.
Coach Michel Therrien broke up the Ryan Malone-Malkin-Petr Sykora line before the Penguins' 4-1 victory in Buffalo Sunday -- "I needed to balance the offense," he said -- but having Talbot replace Malone didn't seem to bother Malkin, who scored one goal and set up another.
Malkin has 34 goals and 43 assists in 59 games and has done some of his best work in the 13 games since Sidney Crosby was sidelined by a high ankle sprain, putting up 11 goals and 14 assists during that span.
"The guy's a horse," right winger Colby Armstrong said. "I don't know how he does it. A guy could full-out have the puck, and he'll battle it away from them somehow. He finds a way to get his stick on it and pull it through guys.
"He's carrying this team. Every time he's on the ice, he's making something happen. He's playing out of his mind."
Crosby practiced at high tempo again yesterday, but ruled out any possibility that he will play tonight.
"If anyone knows it's ready before I do, all the credit to them," he said. "But I'm not ready yet."
One concern Crosby doesn't seem to have, despite being out for the past month, is conditioning.
"I feel pretty good that way," he said. "My legs feel like they're back, as far as [being in] game shape and things like that go."
Therrien acknowledged that keeping three goaltenders "is not the perfect scenario," but certainly didn't rule out the Penguins doing that when Marc-Andre Fleury returns from his conditioning stint with their minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre.
"When you have no choice, you have no choice," Therrien said.
He added that Fleury's appearance in the Baby Penguins' game at Binghamton last night won't necessarily be his final one in the American Hockey League.
"He could play Wednesday and he could play Friday over there as well," Therrien said.
The Penguins will have several options after Fleury returns, if they opt against carrying three goalies.
They could return Ty Conklin, who was brought up on emergency recall after Fleury was hurt, to the Baby Penguins without putting him through waivers -- provided they did so in conjunction with Fleury being activated, or earlier -- but aren't likely to demote a guy who is 15-4-3 and ranks first in the NHL in save percentage (.932) and fourth in goals-against average (2.19).
They also could send Dany Sabourin to Wilkes-Barre, but he would have to clear waivers first. The previous time the Penguins tried that, Sabourin was claimed by Vancouver.
Regardless of who stays on the major-league roster, Therrien said playing time will be doled out on merit.
Although Florida is just four points out of first place in the Southeast Division, the Panthers also are only four points out of last place in the Eastern Conference.
Florida might have to win its division to get into the playoffs, so the Panthers figure to play with a palpable sense of urgency tonight. Then again, with so much at stake at this time of year, that's the norm for most clubs.
"They're certainly not out of it," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "With under 30 games left, you expect every team to be desperate."
The start time for the Penguins' game against Atlanta March 2 at Mellon Arena has been set for 3:08 p.m. The game will be televised locally on FSN Pittsburgh. ... The doors at Mellon Arena will open at 6 p.m. today because of traffic restrictions on Centre Avenue. That's a half-hour earlier than usual.
First Published February 19, 2008 12:00 am