Staal tactics lift Penguins past Columbus, 5-3
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It's still possible that the Penguins will send Jordan Staal back to his junior team in a week or so.
Maybe they'll do it because they want to delay the start of his contract for a year.
Perhaps because they'll want to put off the time when he'll be eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Or possibly he'll get a ticket back to Peterborough because he just doesn't produce any points at even-strength. Nothing but short-handed goals, actually.
"That seems to be his problem," teammate Sidney Crosby said, laughing. "But it's a good problem to have."
Staal produced two more -- the second on a penalty shot -- last night, helping the Penguins defeat Columbus, 5-3, at Mellon Arena and apparently earning a spot in the NHL record book. He is believed to be the first player in league history to score his first three goals while his team was down a man, although that could not immediately be confirmed.
"I've never seen anything like that," Crosby said. "It's pretty amazing."
Staal described his run of short-handed goals as "pretty surprising," even though he scored them with some regularity during the Ontario Hockey League playoffs this spring.
"I'm obviously happy with it," he said. "Hopefully, the coaches are, too, and they'll [keep] me around."
If not, it won't be because he isn't capable of competing -- and contributing -- at this level.
"For such a young guy, he's so strong," coach Michel Therrien said. "He's playing a mature game. He's learning quick. There's no doubt he's making the decision [harder]."
Staal wasn't the only Penguin to earn at least a footnote in league annals last night. Evgeni Malkin recorded a goal for the third consecutive game, becoming the first player to accomplish that since San Jose's Jan Caloun in 1995-96.
Pretty impressive, although Malkin, speaking through a translator, suggested he still is getting acclimated to hockey in North America.
"I'm still learning the different things, playing over here," he said. "It's a little bit different. I'm not doing everything the coach is telling me to do."
At the very least, though, he seems to be paying attention when Michel Therrien tells him to score a goal.
The victory put the Penguins one game over .500 (4-3), but it came at a price. Forward Ryan Malone, who had picked up his first point of the season earlier in the evening and seemed to be rebounding from a horrific start to the season, broke a bone in or near his left wrist and said he expects to be out for six weeks.
Malone was hurt at 12:51 of the second period, when he went after Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla after Klesla knocked Crosby down. He apparently was injured when he first made contact with Klesla, but still dropped his gloves and fought him.
"Sid was trying to finish his check, but the guy came up kind of high [with the stick] on him," said Malone, whose arm was in a cast. Michel Ouellet gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 2:03 of the first period when he steered a Sergei Gonchar pass behind Blue Jackets goalie Fredrik Norrena, who was making his first NHL start.
Gonchar made it 2-0 with his second goal in two games, as he lashed a slap shot by Norrena from near the top of the right circle at 7:51. Malone picked up the second assist.
The Blue Jackets ended up with final five power plays of the period, including a five-on-three that lasted 13 seconds, but needed a ghastly giveaway by Penguins right winger Colby Armstrong to set up their only goal.
Rather than shoot the puck into the Columbus end from the neutral zone, Armstrong tossed it back toward the Penguins' zone, only to have it go directly to Vyborny at the red line.
Vyborny carried it into the Penguins end and gave it to Gilbert Brule, who ended up inside the right circle and blew a high slap shot past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 17:35.
The Blue Jackets exploited another error by the Penguins to generate the tying goal at 7:58 of the second.
Fredrik Modin was left unchecked at the front edge of the crease and knocked in a feed from Anson Carter just as a holding minor to Ouellet was expiring..
Malone, who had been moved to left wing on Crosby's line, picked up an instigating minor, fighting major and 10-minute misconduct when he went after Klesla, but Staal put the Penguins in front when he chipped in a Mark Recchi rebound at 14:43. Malkin took a feed from Crosby and beat Norrena from near the right hash at 7:04 of the third, and Staal scored on his penalty shot at 7:49 to make it 5-2.
His shot slammed off the left post, but the puck then struck Norrena's left skate and skidded across the goal line before Norrena could stop it.Harry How, Getty Images
Jordan Staal's goal breaks a 2-2 tie in the second period last night at Mellon Arena.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published October 22, 2006 12:00 am