It looks like a little breather did Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins a lot of good.
Geno sat out a few games with a banged up knee and he suddenly looks like a changed man. Actually, scratch that; he looks like the Malkin of old. You know: the one whose superlative talents prompted Crosby haters to say that “Sidney isn’t even the best player on his own team.”
Since returning to action from that injury, Malkin is chipping in at an impressive pace. The talented Russian scored two goals and three assists in this game, giving him a three game points streak with five goals and three assists for eight points in that small span.
The time off clearly benefited Malkin, but Pittsburgh played like a team that was well-rested too. After reeling off an outstanding 12-game winning streak, the Penguins dropped back-to-back games to the Flyers and Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. Like a banged up NFL team getting a perfectly timed bye week, the Pens fired 38 shots on net and chased Jason LaBarbera from the Phoenix net.
I decided to discuss Malkin’s hot return first because Sidney Crosby’s continued success almost makes me sound like a broken record. He extended his career-high points streak to 21 games with one goal and two assists against the helpless Coyotes.
Crosby now has a nice, clean run in that 21-game span: 21 goals and 21 assist for 42 points (for exactly two points per game). He now has 27 goals and 30 assists for 57 points on the season.
Fun facts: Dany Heatley is the only player with a longer points streak (22 games) in the post-lockout era while Mario Lemieux is the only Penguin with a longer streak all-time, although his two longest streaks will be tough to match at 28 and 46 games.
Marc-Andre Fleury continued his own hot streak (although he lost his winning streak) by earning a win with 26 for 27 save performance. LaBarbera was pulled for Matt Climie, who allowed one goal on 16 shots.
The Penguins still trail the Flyers (who were flattened by the Florida Panthers 5-0 tonight) by three points, so this wasn’t one of those nights in which the Atlantic Division power shifted. Still, it’s clear that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are going to duke it out for the top spot in the division for quite some time.
If Malkin can spell the better-than-Crosby on occasion, it’s going to be difficult for the Pronger-less Flyers to hold the Penguins off.