Penguins' Talbot misses Crosby, Malkin, struggles to score
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Penguins forwards Max Talbot and Sidney Crosby celebrated a decade of friendship last summer, stretching to when they were teenagers.
Talbot also counts Evgeni Malkin among his closer friends on the team because the two were road roommates when the Russian forward was a rookie and struggling with English and North American culture.
So, while Talbot is dealing with his own level of frustration -- points have been elusive despite a relatively solid season otherwise -- he has a pretty good understanding of what his friends are going through.
Crosby has a concussion, Malkin a knee injury and sinus problem. Both are expected to miss the game tonight against Carolina.
Game: Penguins vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Cam Ward for Hurricanes.
Penguins: Had 3-game win streak snapped in 2-0 loss Thursday at New Jersey. ... Are 10-2 vs .Southeast Division, including 2-0 vs. Hurricanes. ... Are 0-10-1 when trailing after two periods.
Hurricanes: Are 8-3-2 in past 13 games. ... Tuomo Ruutu has 30 points in his past 30 games. ... Are 15-0-0 when leading after two periods.
Of note: Before games Friday, Carolina ranked second in NHL with 1,317 hits, the Penguins third with 1,296.
"Let's talk about Sid," Talbot said Friday after practice at Consol Energy Center. "He's having the best season of his career. And he's our captain. For people who know him, how competitive he is and how bad he wants to be here for this team, it's really frustrating.
"But the thing that amazes me the most with him right now is that he comes to the rink, he's around the guys, he keeps a smile on. This morning, he was there with us eating breakfast. I've been hurt. It's not easy. Most of the time you're in a bad mood when you're hurt because hockey is what we do."
Talbot also said that not having a timetable for his recovery has to be gnawing at Crosby.
"You see how he's reacting to something that's different. It's probably the most frustrating injury," Talbot said. "And, still, he's around the guys. After [a 2-0 loss Thursday at New Jersey] he texted a lot of us. He texted me -- 'Good fight. You battled hard.' He's there for us."
Talbot fought the Devils' Tim Sestito in the third period. He also helped kill two New Jersey power plays (he was in the penalty box and unable to help on two others) and had a gangbusters night on faceoffs -- one of Crosby's fortes -- by winning 13 of 16.
Talbot and Malkin were each looking for a bounce-back season after Talbot never shook the rust following shoulder surgery, and Malkin had an off year based at least partly on a cranky shoulder.
Now, Malkin is dealing with a cranky knee, something that likely has bothered him longer than he has let on.
"It's frustrating," Talbot said. "He wanted to rebound from last year.
"The thing with these two guys, it's better that it happens now than a little later. You know these two guys are going to show up [down the stretch and in the playoffs]."
Talbot knows about showing up in the playoffs. He scored both goals when the Penguins beat Detroit, 2-1, in Game 7 of the 2009 final to clinch the Stanley Cup. He also helped to keep his team alive in the 2008 final against Detroit by scoring in the final minute of Game 5 to force overtime.
Still, he is bummed that he has just five goals (none in the past 22 games) and six assists (none in the past 13 games) -- especially now that all the Penguins are trying to compensate without Crosby and Malkin.
"You take more responsibility, so it's even more frustrating when you can't put the puck in the net when these guys aren't there," Talbot said. "You try to do what you can do.
"I want to do more. Yes, I know I do some good things, and I know I've been playing all right and doing my things, but I want more. I scored 13 one year [in 2006-07]. I scored eight goals in 24 games in the  playoffs. Why can't I do it now?"
Talbot, 26, is known primarily as a versatile, high-energy forward who is one of the club's regular penalty-killers. He has moved around, from second-line winger with Malkin to center or winger on the third or fourth line.
"Max's work ethic and determination, the spark that he has, has been there," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's been doing a lot of things. I think frustration does start to build when you don't get the result on the scoresheet, but Max has always been more of a timely guy than a consistent guy there.
"If he keeps playing like that, he'll find a way to get that goal or assist for us when we need it."
Talbot is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent if he's not re-signed by July 1, but he's not aware of any talks between his agent and the Penguins. That's OK with him, because he hopes to give both sides more to talk about.
"I feel like I want to be on top of my game and prove that I can be me," he said.
"Overall, it's definitely better than last year, so I can't complain."
Especially when he sees what friends Crosby and Malkin are going through.
First Published January 22, 2011 12:00 am