Emotionally Engaged Malkin Provides Boost for Pens

Pittsburgh center with two assists, fight in win over first-place Tampa

Josh Rowntree
January 31, 2019 - 12:36 am
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) and Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) fight during the third period at PPG PAINTS Arena. Pittsburgh won 4-2.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Evgeni Malkin showed up and the Penguins were impressed. And impressive. 

Malkin assisted two goals, was a force all over the ice, and even dropped the gloves to fight Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos, as the Penguins took down the first-place Lightning in convincing fashion, 4-2.

“That’s Geno’s best game in a while,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He was on the puck, you noticed him. He was a presence every shift. I thought he did a really good job in cutting his skating down in the defensive zone and stopping on pucks. 

“When he’s engaged like that, emotionally, I think that’s when he’s at his best.”

Emotional is a word that has been used often throughout Malkin’s career. Abundantly talented, Malkin has gone through stretched in this rollercoaster of a Penguins season in which he, at times, appeared disinterested. But not Wednesday.

“When Geno plays like that and can lead by example, that’s big for us,” forward Matt Cullen said. “He’s a huge part of this team.”

“He was a monster out there,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin added. “He can play physically, he can play with the puck. He’s just a great, great player. When he’s going, he’s tough to handle. 

“He cares so much and wants to get through to our team. He did a great job tonight. It was fun watching him and seeing the passion out of him.”

The passion shined brightest when Malkin, ever the agitator himself, was poked in the back to the knee by Stamkos’ stick early in the third period. Malkin turned and, for just the ninth time in his career, fully engaged in a fight.

“Everybody gets on their toes,” Cullen said. “It’s exciting. Obviously, for Geno to do that, it’s a big boost for our team.”

“It’s great to see,” said Dumoulin. “When Geno’s dropping the gloves, it gets everyone going.”

Others, however, may not think the fight was totally necessary for a player of Malkin's caliber. 

“It was so quick,” defenseman Kris Letang joked. “By the time I looked up, they were falling. Geno is always good for one fight a year, so I guess that was it. I don’t like to see him fight. You never know what can happen, like if they’re falling on the ice or you punch the helmet. But he’s good for one a year, so he’s done now.”

Malkin’s first assist, a secondary helper in which he sprung winger Bryan Rust, who found Phil Kessel for a goal, was the 600th of his NHL career. The goal was quickly followed, just 16 seconds later, by one from Sidney Crosby. 

Malkin then found Letang for an early second period marker. It was the 108th goal of Letang’s career, tying him with Paul Coffey for the most in Penguins history. 

Malkin’s energy appeared contagious on a night in which Pittsburgh bounced back, in a mighty way, from a 6-3 loss to last-place New Jersey Monday. The result was a win over the NHL’s best team and, perhaps, a message to the rest of the league that the Penguins are still a squad to be reckoned with.

“I think all of our guys came out to play tonight,” Letang said. “As a team, we all showed up and were really invested right from the get-go.”

Hear all of what Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had to say below.