Evgeni Malkin

2011-2012 season preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

2010-2011 record: 49-25-8, 106 points; 2nd in Atlantic, 4th in East

Playoffs: Lost to Tampa Bay 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals

After a season that saw too little from their biggest stars and a collapse in the first round of the playoffs, the Penguins are back with a vengeance. They showed they can win without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and while Malkin is back and Crosby is getting closer to returning, they’ll be even more dangerous than ever.


We hate to judge guys by how they did in the preseason, but if how Malkin played in the preseason is an indication of how he’s going to play this season, then the Penguins really don’t need to rush Crosby back. Malkin looks healthy for the first time in over a year and that makes him one of the most dangerous guys on the ice. If you throw Crosby in there, all the offense the Pens lacked late last season is back in force. Adding Steve Sullivan will help out a bit. They’ll need more from James Neal though.

What the Penguins get from guys like Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis is fine as long as Malkin is there to carry the load to start. Getting another 20-plus goal season from Tyler Kennedy would help and another solid season from Mark Letestu would go a long way to achieving balance in Pittsburgh. Oh, yeah, Jordan Staal is still pretty good at hockey, too, and if he gets to run with Malkin when Crosby returns, that makes the Pens all the more dangerous.


The defense is still as solid as ever and learning how to defend staunchly when Malkin and Crosby were out helped make them very difficult to beat. Kris Letang is a full-fledged offensive stud while Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen help bring some offense to the blue line as well. Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek are defensive studs. Ben Lovejoy should end up the sixth starter. This year’s first-round pick Joe Morrow gave the Penguins a lot to think about in training camp. He could be worth getting a nine game regular-season look before the Pens decide whether or not to send him back to juniors.


Marc-Andre Fleury finally silenced the rest of his critics with how strong he played last season. While he had a bumpy first month, he settled in and turned out to be one of the best in the league. He was poised and strong and helped keep the Pens rolling along without their star forwards. Brent Johnson was again a more-than solid backup and proved to be the most effective enforcer on the roster. Just ask Rick DiPietro.


Dan Bylsma is one of the best in the business and took home the Jack Adams Award as top coach. The way he helped keep the Penguins calm, cool, and collected in the face of disaster and through a myriad of injuries last seaosn was nothing short of miraculous. Finishing tied for first in the Atlantic and nearly overtaking the Flyers was a work of art. We’re pretty sure that if there’s a zombie apocalypse we want Bylsma to be the guy to lead us through the undead masses.

Breakout candidate

If Morrow sticks around he’s the pick here. We’re going to hedge our bets on that and say that a healthy, full season from Mark Letestu will be just the thing the Penguins need to get supportive offense from their other lines. In 64 games last season, the center had 14 goals and 13 assists. Cracking 20 goals should be his goal this season.

Best-case scenario

Malkin has an MVP-worthy season and shows why he is, indeed, one of the best players in the league all over again. Crosby comes back and has no further concussion issues and resumes the dominating play he had last season while Staal continues to be his solid self and Letang continues his huge offensive rise. Matt Cooke gets his act together and only gets press for being a solid defensive forward and penalty-killing maven. The Pens’ defense plays solid and nasty while Fleury shows his play from last season is how he’s going to be the rest of the way in leading the Penguins into the Stanley Cup finals.


The Penguins were already going to be a dangerously good team as it was. Bylsma’s expertise leading a team that plays non-stop aggressive hockey each game makes them a good team. Getting Malkin back as a Russian-powered super machine will make them great. If/when Crosby returns and has no follow-up issues with his health, this team is a legitimate Stanley Cup favorite. Getting that massive amount of offense back in the lineup after learning how to become defensively stingy makes them one of the best in the East, if not the NHL.

Kings win ugly with Budaj, making things even uglier for Predators

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to the overtime goal of Jeff Carter #77 to beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 at Staples Center on October 31, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

How would you describe the Nashville Predators’ Stanley Cup bandwagon at the moment? A few flat tires? One of those abandoned school buses at a dump?

An unlikely occurrence – Peter Budaj winning four straight games for the Los Angeles Kings, all in overtime, all seriously in 2016 – puts a spotlight on an unsightly start for Nashville following a 3-2 OT decision.

In other words, it was another night where the Predators (early or not) didn’t look the part of Stanley Cup contenders.

Pekka Rinne has often been the scapegoat for Nashville’s losses, and his recent numbers justify some of the criticisms. Thursday doesn’t fall into that pattern, however. Instead, the Predators wasted a strong performance from their $7 million man, who stopped 42 out of 45 shots.

Budaj? He only needed to make 24 out of 26 stops to keep his unexpected winning streak going.

For the Kings and Predators, very different patterns continued on Thursday night.

Los Angeles has people wondering “How long can they win with Budaj?” and “Is there a team that can finally hog the puck against the Kings enough to expose him?” Don’t blame Kings fans who never want this strange sequence to end.

Nashville devotees, on the other hand, must wonder if they’re stuck in some sort of sick nightmare.

They’ve been a chic pick to win it all, yet they’re now at 2-4-1 with three away contests remaining on a challenging five-game road trip.

It’s early, but the headaches just keep multiplying for the Preds.

Mrazek comes up big as Red Wings win sixth in a row

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Petr Mrazek #34 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on in the first period while playing the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on October 21, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Are the Detroit Red Wings for real or are they headed toward a humbling regression? We might have to wait until their goalies look human before that question can really be answered.

For yet another game, Detroit’s netminder was outstanding, with Petr Mrazek helping the Red Wings beat the St. Louis 2-1 via a shootout (and a pretty stressful shootout in that).

It took eight rounds until Henrik Zetterberg managed Detroit’s second and decisive tally of the “skills competition,” and now Detroit is on a six-game winning streak.

Mrazek made 31 out of 32 games through overtime and was only beaten by Alex Steen in that shootout, stopping seven of eight attempts. He’s faced more than 30 shots on goal in all six of his appearances in 2016-17.

It is not as if there has been a big drop-off when Jimmy Howard has taken the net, either. Howard has only given up one goal in his two games, winning both of them.

Are the Red Wings asking a lot of Mrazek and Howard? Yep. Just take a look a this lopsided possession chart from Natural Stat Trick for another reminder.


You can see why skeptics murmur about this six-game winning streak being fool’s gold, but the Red Wings keep finding a way to win. Usually, it’s their goalies who have been doing the heavy lifting.

It wasn’t pretty, but Coyotes beat Flyers to end five-game skid

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 27: Roman Lyubimov #13 and Chris VandeVelde #76 of the Philadelphia Flyers collide during the second period against the Arizona Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center on October 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Martin Hanzal and Brad Richardson scored the decisive goals to help the Arizona Coyotes beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 on Thursday night to snap a five-game road losing streak.

Jamie McGinn, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan White also scored for Arizona. The Coyotes have their only two wins this season against the Flyers.

The Coyotes salvaged one victory on a season-long, six-game road trip.

Louis Domingue stopped 28 shots and won his first game of the season. He had been 0-4 with a 5.03 goals against average and had stopped only 85 percent of his shots.

Nick Cousins, Brayden Schenn, Andrew MacDonald and Wayne Simmonds scored for the Flyers.

The Coyotes snapped a tie with two straight goals in the third scored in a bit of a bizarre manner.

Schenn leveled defenseman Michael Stone and Coyotes teammate Jakob Chychrun quickly came to his defense. Chychrun and Schenn brawled against the boards as the crowd erupted – and no one paid attention to the puck.

Hanzal made it 3-2 and led to a few confusing moments as officials checked to make sure the goal was scored before the fight. Wildly cheering fans fell silent in a second when the goal was announced.

Chychrun was tossed for instigating the fight.

Richardson made it 4-2 on a goal that was reviewed because the Flyers thought he ran down goalie Steve Mason. Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov took Richardson down and they went into the net together so the goal counted.

MacDonald, having a miserable season, made it 4-3 but the Flyers were out of rallies.

White scored an insurance goal late in third to send fans toward the exits. Simmonds scored with 14.3 seconds left.

The Flyers again had to rally from an early deficit, a troubling theme for a team with playoff aspirations. The Coyotes led 2-0 in the first, the latest slow start for the Flyers. They have been outscored 8-1 in the first period this season and allowed the first goal for the seventh straight game.

Coach Dave Hakstol hoped a line change would boost the Flyers offense. He moved 19-year-old rookie center Travis Konecny to the top line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek after that late-game pairing helped the Flyers come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Buffalo.

“We needed a spark, that’s why we’re trying something a little bit different,” Hakstol said.

Konecny, the Flyers’ first-round pick of the 2015 draft, has been solid since he opened eyes in training camp and scored his first career goal against the Sabres. He entered tied for the rookie lead with five assists and said he would keep the same approach even with the line promotion.

“I’m not going to change anything in my game,” he said. “I’m just going to try and help them and create space for them.”

The Flyers needed help early.

Moments after they honored former great Eric Lindros – in his No. 88 sweater – another 88 got them with a goal. McGinn scored his first goal of the season to beat Mason. Ekman-Larsson followed with a slapper from the point for his fifth goal of the season.

The Coyotes, who last won on opening night against the Flyers on Oct. 15, failed to hold the lead.

Cousins pounded home a rebound for his first goal of the season and Schenn followed with a power-play score to help the Flyers at least tie the game when down two goals for the fifth time this season.

Notes: The Flyers played without a suspended player for the first time this season. … The Flyers honored 14 members of the team’s Hall of Fame, along with the family of six other members, including: Bob Clarke, Ron Hextall, Bernie Parent and Dave Schultz. The Flyers have a variety of nostalgic celebrations planned this season for their 50th anniversary. … Coyotes D Luke Schenn, a former Flyer, played against his brother.


Coyotes: Host Colorado on Saturday.

Flyers: Host Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Video: In case you wonder if Crosby will still score gritty goals

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on April 2, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Penguins shutout the Islanders 5-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Many hockey fans were sad that Sidney Crosby was absent from the start of the 2016-17 season. The New York Islanders probably would’ve preferred that he sit out a few more games.

Crosby’s been back and hasn’t really missed a beat, and Thursday provided a reminder that he’s unlikely to change the way he plays.

To be more specific, he’s a star player willing to score “greasy” or “dirty” goals (depending upon your region). Crosby operated like a power forward while scoring the game-winner against the Islanders on Thursday:

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Islanders 4-2, with the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury receiving a lot of the credit.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have an all-world player willing to get that physical on your side.