Evgeni Malkin accepts suspension, believes Raffl ‘dove’

20 Comments

Evgeni Malkin did not play in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night because he was serving a one-game suspension for violently swinging his stick at Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl.

For Malkin, the play resulted in his second match penalty of the season and even though there is some debate as to where the stick actually hit Raffl, it was still an ugly incident that warranted a suspension.

On Friday, Malkin spoke about the suspension, and while he accepted his punishment, he made it clear that he was not happy with the circumstances surrounding the event, while also accusing Raffl of taking a dive. What angered him the most during the game was that he was punched in the back of the neck by the Flyers forward just before swinging his stick. That came in Malkin’s return to the lineup after he missed five games due to what he revealed on Thursday was a neck injury.

He also argued to the league that his stick didn’t actually hit Raffl’s face.

Via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“Yes and no,” Malkin responded when asked whether he agreed with the suspension. “One game probably, it’s OK. I play dangerous. My stick went high. My point [to the NHL] was that I didn’t touch his face. I touched his shoulder. I think he dove.”

Several things can all be true at the same time with this incident.

Yes, Raffl’s punch should have warranted a penalty and Malkin is right to be upset that one was not called. That should not be something that is simply tolerated as being part of the game.

But it is also true that Malkin can not react the way he did and swing his stick in the manner in which he did. There is no justification for that no matter what preceded it, and whether or not he hit Raffl’s shoulder or face should irrelevant because the intent in what he was trying to do there was clear. He was using his hockey stick as a weapon and that should always warrant a punishment.

He is lucky that it wasn’t worse, and had his stick — or Raffl’s head been — an inch or two closer we probably would have been looking at an incident and suspension that were both significantly worse.

Flyers coach Scott Gordon responded to Malkin’s comments on Thursday and wasn’t interested in giving him credit for missing Raffl’s face.

Via the Courier Post:

“Well it wasn’t a high stick, right? It was a baseball swing,” Gordon said. “Just because you don’t connect doesn’t mean that it wasn’t vicious. It’s a tough call. There was intent to swing hard and he did but it didn’t connect. I don’t think you reward a player because he didn’t connect.”

He is not wrong.

The two teams meet Saturday, Feb. 23 (8 p.m. ET; NBC) in the 2019 Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

It will certainly be interesting.

Related: Evgeni Malkin suspended one game

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins’ Malkin ejected after swinging stick at head of Flyers’ Raffl

16 Comments

Oh, boy. This is a no-no. And Evgeni Malkin will have to answer for his stick-swinging antics.

The Pittsburgh Penguins forward let his emotions get the best of him and it could cost him more than just the match penalty he received in Monday’s 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Late in the third period with the Penguins leading the game comfortably 3-0, Flyers forward Michael Raffl and Malkin got tangled up in the neutral zone.

Raffl took a swipe at the back of Malkin’s head with his fist. Malkin, displeased with this, swung around, bringing his stick with him up high and grazing Raffl in the head.

Thankfully, Raffl was fine as that could have ended up much, much worse. Sure, the punch to the back of the head wasn’t nice, but trying to Marty McSorely someone is no way to respond to it.

Malkin, who was quickly escorted off the ice, just returned to the lineup on Monday after missing five games with an upper-body injury. The Penguins sorely missed him, going 1-3-1 in his absence.

George Parros and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety came to the conclusion quickly that the play warranted a review. Malkin has never been suspended during his 13-year career but he was fined $5,000 last year for spearing Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown.

“I know it was dirty,” Malkin said after the game, adding that he didn’t think he hit Raffl.

Malkin said he needs to be smarter next time.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Penguins trying to stay the course during bumpy start

11 Comments

By WILL GRAVES (AP Sports Writer)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Sullivan’s regular film sessions with the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t lack for clues on why one of the NHL’s marquee franchises is in the midst of its bumpiest stretch in more than a decade.

The defense can morph into a disjointed mess under sustained pressure, particularly right in front of the net. The crisp breakouts that used to trigger odd-man rushes featuring some of the league’s most skilled players moving at warp speed have largely vanished and been replaced by something significantly sloppier.

Oh, and the NHL at large has caught up to the frenetic tempo Sullivan introduced when he took over nearly three years ago, a hiring that – combined with a roster makeover authored by general manager Jim Rutherford – helped power the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups. In that way, Pittsburgh’s current struggles are a byproduct of its not-so-distant glory.

”For the most part it’s a copycat league and teams tend to try to emulate the teams that have success,” Sullivan said Tuesday. ”When you look at our team over the last handful of seasons, we’ve had pretty good success with a certain style of play.”

A style Sullivan has no plans to abandon even with Pittsburgh mired in a 1-7-2 funk that has dropped his club into a tie for the fewest points in the wide-open Eastern Conference a quarter of the way through the season.

”You look at the core of our players, (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Phil) Kessel, (Kris) Letang, all those guys can skate,” Sullivan said. ”They can still skate.”

The thing now is, so can everyone else.

The proof came to life over the last 30 minutes against Buffalo on Monday night, when the Sabres reeled off the final four goals, including Jake Eichel’s game-winner 45 seconds into overtime at the end of a sequence that began with a Malkin giveaway in the offensive zone.

It was the kind of miscue Pittsburgh used to pounce on with ruthless efficiency. Now it’s the Penguins who are making the crucial mistakes, ones that are ending up in the back of their own net with alarming regularity.

”I think we’ve been doing some really good things the last handful of games but we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit with a few plays,” forward Bryan Rust said. ”We’ve got to be a little bit more mindful of that and just dig down a little bit deeper and the bounces will eventually go our way.”

There is a fair amount of ”puck luck” that’s abandoned Pittsburgh at the moment. The Penguins were up two goals late in the second period against Buffalo when Pittsburgh defenseman Jack Johnson locked up Sabres forward Conor Sheary in front of the net. No matter. Casey Nelson‘s shot from the point deflected off Johnson’s skate and by goaltender Casey DeSmith.

Watching from afar while sitting out a third straight game nursing an upper body injury, Crosby could only scratch his head.

”I think the thing for us that’s probably been a little more difficult is, it’s not necessarily the same thing,” said the two-time MVP, who hopes to play on Wednesday when Pittsburgh hosts Dallas. ”We’ve found different ways to lose games and you know, we’ve probably corrected one thing and something else has been a factor in another game we lost.”

One thread, however, has been a constant: defense. The Penguins – particularly early in the season during the Crosby era – have occasionally been slow to tighten things up because they are so talented offensively that the finer points of playing responsibly in their own end can be lost.

In past years, Pittsburgh has been able to outscore opponents even on nights it didn’t particularly play well. That’s not happening at the moment. The loss to Buffalo marked the eighth time in 19 games the Penguins have allowed at least five goals, something they did 13 times all of last season.

While Sullivan is quick to point to the number of quality chances Pittsburgh created against Buffalo, he’s well aware his team was far too generous in front of DeSmith. Pittsburgh dominated the first period but only had a 1-1 tie to show for it after forward Dominik Simon lost his footing while attempting to help clear a puck. Buffalo kept it in the zone and a cross-ice pass led to a one-timer that Tage Thompson buried to even the game.

”We’ve got to do a better job defending and making sure we stay on the right side of the puck and the right side of people in the critical areas of the rink,” Sullivan said. ”That’s an area we can all improve as a team.”

Pittsburgh hasn’t missed the playoffs since Crosby’s rookie year in 2005-06 and Crosby stressed it is far too early to panic.

”It’s tight but we just have to make sure we eliminate our mistakes and give ourselves the best chance and I thought for the most part (against Buffalo) we were pretty in control of that game,” Crosby said. ”I think if we keep trending that way, we’ll learn from that one and get a lot more wins.”

Three quarters of the season remains. Though the Penguins have been ”meh” at best, the rest Metropolitan Division hasn’t exactly been lights out. Only eight points separate the Penguins from first-place Columbus. One good consistent stretch of hockey and things can change very quickly.

”You can’t control the ones you’ve let slip away,” Crosby said. ”Ten games from now, you don’t know where you’re going to be.”

Full AP NHL coverage: http://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Malkin, Dumoulin help Penguins score twice in five seconds vs. Flyers (Video)

9 Comments

PHILADELPHIA — After a first period where they were outshot 11-4 but held a 1-0 lead, the Pittsburgh Penguins used the middle period to really separate themselves in Game 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Penguins would capitalize on two power play goals in the second period with Derick Brassard netting his first of the playoffs 2:48 in to make it 2-0. Four minutes later, with Pittsburgh on a 4-on-3 power play, Kris Letang set up Evgeni Malkin for a one-timer,  which resulted in goal number three on the afternoon.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

As Flyers fans inside Wells Fargo Center were coming to grips with the three-goal deficit, the ensuing face-off following the Malkin goal quickly led to another Penguins scoring chance, with Sidney Crosby winning the draw and then finding Brian Dumoulin to make it 4-0.

According to the NHL, Pittsburgh’s two goals in five seconds matches a playoff record for two goals by one team. The feat did make Penguins franchise history in beating the previous playoff record of seven seconds set by Ron Stackhouse and Rick Kehoe in 1980.

Two goals in five seconds and a 4-1 lead after the second period is certainly a good way to respond to their ineffectiveness offensively on Friday night. The Penguins would hang on and take Game 3, 5-1, for a 2-1 series lead.

“It was big,” said Letang afterward, “I think our [special teams] were the reason we lost in Game 2. I think tonight they answered really well and those two goals were big for us.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Zibanejad forces OT, notches game winner as Rangers top Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins had this one right where they wanted it.

A 2-0 lead heading into the third period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 20 minutes away from taking sole possession of first place in the volatile Metropolitan Division.

But the Rangers, who could only hope to play the role of spoiler on during Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN, did exactly that after two third-period comebacks in a 4-3 overtime win.

For the Penguins, the point was enough to move them into a tie with the Washington Capitals for first place, with Alex Ovechkin and Co. holding a game in-hand over their Metro rivals. But the Penguins won’t be looking at the silver linings after giving up 2-0 and 3-2 leads respectively in the final frame.

Pittsburgh was even gifted a glorious opportunity to break a 3-3 with 10 seconds left.

The Rangers started Alexandar Georgiev in goal, and the veteran of five NHL games nudged the net off its moorings with Pittsburgh pressing and time running down in the third. Given that it was in the final two minutes of the game, the Penguins were awarded a penalty shot.

Step up Evgeni Malkin, who was looking for No. 40 for the third time in his career. Georgiev, with an opportunity to make amends for his transgression, stuck with Malkin as he dangled in close, ultimately turning aside the attempt to force overtime.

Bryan Rust, who missed the past two games with a concussion, returned in style to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead after a scoreless first period. Riley Sheahan doubled the lead under a minute later.

Casey DeSmith wasn’t tested much during the first two periods but turned aside all 17 shots he faced through 40 minutes.

The Rangers looked like a different team in the third period. Sustained pressure forced DeSmith to make some timely saves, but the walls eventually gave way.

Chris Kreider notched his 13th followed by Jesper Fast‘s 11th to tie the game with just over five minutes to go.

Former Ranger Carl Hagelin scored just over a minute later to restore the lead for the Penguins, but the Rangers got a late power play opportunity and cashed in, with Kreider making a slick cross-ice feed to Mika Zibanejad.

And it would be Zibanejad who would have the final say in the contest, scoring at the 2:53 mark in overtime to cap off quite the comeback for the Rangers.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck