Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Capitals 4-3

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PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

“His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

“It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

“It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

Not this season.

While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

“I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.

Crosby reaches 30-goal mark, Penguins knock off Avalanche 5-2

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DENVER – Sidney Crosby wasn’t even aware of reaching yet another milestone. He’s simply locked in on helping the Pittsburgh Penguins make a 17th straight postseason appearance.

Jeff Carter had a pair of goals, Crosby scored on a nifty backhand shot in the second period to reach the 30-goal mark for an 11th season and the Penguins beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2.

Crosby moved into a tie with Hall-of-Fame center Mario Lemieux for the most 30-goal seasons in Penguins history. Another milestone reached – it came as news to him.

“I think the most important thing for me is just try to be consistent and if that reflects that great,” said Crosby, who turns 36 in August.

Even more, Crosby’s the first player in league history to post a 30-goal campaign at 18 years old and again when he was 35-plus, according to NHL Stats.

“It means I’ve been in the league for a while,” Crosby cracked. “That’s been the thing that’s driven me since since I got into the league – in your first year, you want to prove that you belong. Even at 35, I still think you want to prove you belong, because it is a younger league.”

Jake Guentzel also scored and Bryan Rust added an empty-net goal for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game slide and moved back into a wild-card spot in the East.

“It’s definitely a big one for us, for sure,” Guentzel said. “Defending champs, coming to their building, you know how good they are. Top to bottom, we defended hard and that’s what we have to do at this time of the year.”

Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry stopped 28 shots in improving to 11-4 this season against teams from the Western Conference.

J.T. Compher and Devon Toews had goals for the Avalanche, whose six-game winning streak was halted. Nathan MacKinnon had an assist to extend his home points streak to 18 games.

It was a missed opportunity for Colorado, which could’ve pulled into a three-way tie with Dallas and Minnesota in the Central Division with a victory.

“We knew they were going to play with urgency,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “But I didn’t feel like there was any reason why we couldn’t, either. … We didn’t get it done. Hopefully we get another one.”

Alexandar Georgiev made 40 saves, including several critical ones in a second period controlled by the Penguins, who outshot the Avalanche by a 21-9 margin. It could’ve been more than a 3-1 deficit heading into the third period.

Toews’ power-play goal made it 3-2 with 9:32 remaining. But Carter wrapped up the win with his first multigoal game in the regular season since Jan. 11, 2022.

“I’m thrilled for him. We’re all thrilled,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Carter. “He cares about the Penguins. He wants to win, and he wants to contribute in helping us win so we couldn’t be happier for him.”


Bednar was appreciative of the three-year extension he signed Tuesday that goes through the 2026-27 season. In his seventh season, he’s the third-longest tenured coach in the NHL behind Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Sullivan (December 2015).

“It’s not a forgiving league or sport, for the most part, but obviously that’s part of the reason why I’m so grateful and thankful,” Bednar said. “Because there were times over my tenure that got a little hairy and management could have made another decision. But obviously they didn’t.”


Avalanche D Cale Makar missed a second straight game with a lower body injury. “I still have him as day-to-day,” Bednar said. … F Darren Helm returned after missing 64 of 69 games this season with a lower-body injury. … Penguins D Jeff Petry (upper body) skated in the morning but sat out his third straight game. … The Penguins are 11-1 against the Central Division this season. … Penguins standout Evgeni Malkin assisted on Guentzel’s goal to reach the 50-assist mark for a seventh time in his career.


Penguins: At Dallas on Thursday night.

Avalanche: Host Arizona on Friday night.

Ferguson stops 47 shots, Senators top reeling Penguins 2-1

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PITTSBURGH – Drake Batherson‘s power-play goal from in front with 2:09 left in regulation lifted the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 win over the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins finally beat Ottawa goaltender Dylan Ferguson on a Rickard Rakell goal with 5:21 to play, but a hooking penalty by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel gave the Senators the man advantage and Batherson responded with his 21st goal of the season.

Ferguson, making his first NHL start and first appearance in the league in more than five years, made 47 saves to send Pittsburgh to its fourth straight loss. Thomas Chabot scored his 10th goal of the season for Ottawa as the Senators snapped a five-game slide.

The Penguins fell behind Florida in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Tristan Jarry played well but couldn’t get in the way of Batherson’s jam shot from just outside the crease.

Ferguson began the night having played nine minutes at the NHL level as a teenager for Vegas early in the Golden Knights’ debut season in 2017-18. He has bounced around various levels of the minors ever since and was in the process of being sent down to the ECHL by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies earlier this month when the Senators signed him to a two-way deal.

Something clicked. He played well enough in six games for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville to receive a call-up on Sunday. Just over 24 hours later, the Senators made the now 24-year-old Ferguson the sixth goaltender they’ve used this season when they gave him the nod against the struggling Penguins.

Ferguson looked like he belonged from the opening faceoff. He made a series of sharp saves early, including a couple of stops from in close against Jake Guentzel and a flashy glove save on a slap shot by Malkin.

Jarry, a two-time All-Star who has struggled to find any sort of consistency since returning from an extended stay on the injured list, took a step forward, turning aside multiple odd-man rushes and a breakaway by Brady Tkachuk in the second period.

The lone goal Jarry allowed came 16:46 into the first when Chabot took a feed from Claude Giroux and rather than fire a shot from high in the slot skated down to the right circle and beat Jarry to the far post.

Jarry was solid the rest of the way, though he spent most of the game watching Ferguson dazzle at the other end before Rakell broke through with just over 5 minutes to go.


Senators: Travel to Boston on Tuesday to face the NHL-leading Bruins.

Penguins: Start a difficult back-to-back on the road on Wednesday when they visit the Avalanche in Denver.

Inconsistent Penguins scrambling as stretch run looms

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — The faces around Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have changed over the years.

Coaches have come and gone. General managers, a litany of players – some of them forever etched in Pittsburgh Penguins lore, others not-so much – and owners too.

Yet Crosby, Malkin and Letang have remained. Through heartache and triumph. Milestones and giddy early summer parades along packed downtown streets, the Stanley Cup in tow.

They are the fulcrum around which the organization revolves, their presence in the NHL playoffs practically a given for 16 years and counting.

Yet nearly three-quarters of the way through their 17th season together, the group known simply as “The Big Three” finds itself in practically uncharted territory: scrambling to stay in the midst of a playoff chase.

The Penguins enter play against Connor McDavid and Edmonton on the outside of the top eight in the Eastern Conference looking in.

And while there is plenty of time for Pittsburgh to right itself, the reality is the Penguins have rarely looked as beatable during the Crosby/Malkin/Letang era as they have over the past five middling and maddening months.

The latest proof came in a frustrating 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders, a game in which the Penguins dominated play for the first 45-plus minutes only to crumble down the stretch on their way to a ninth straight loss to a Metropolitan Division rival.

The setback marked the sixth time in 14 games the Penguins lost after leading through two periods. A team long known for its ability to finish has become vulnerable to late lapses that have cost them precious points in the standings.

“I mean, it’s not ideal when you lose games and you have leads but the only way out of it is to find a way to win one and try to get some momentum from that,” Crosby said. “We can’t dwell on it.”

Mostly because there’s no time.

The NHL’s oldest roster finds itself facing a daunting sprint down the stretch. Pittsburgh will play its final 26 games in the span of 50 days. Not ideal for a group that save for a brilliant 14-2-2 run from Nov. 9-Dec. 15 has been ordinary at best.

While it’s not the first time during the Penguins’ streak of 16 straight playoff appearances that they have looked iffy as March looms, it may be the first time their options to rectify things have been so limited.

There are no young legs ready to come up from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary did in 2015-16, an arrival that coincided with a dash to the franchise’s third Stanley Cup.

And there may be little in the way of reinforcements coming at the trade deadline. The players the Penguins have that are considered the most attractive to other clubs are the same players they can’t succeed without, and general manager Ron Hextall has a very different mandate than his predecessor, Jim Rutherford.

Where “Trader Jim” moved the parts around Crosby, Malkin and Letang frequently in search of a mix that worked, Hextall has been far more deliberate in his approach. He’s loathe – publicly anyway – to trade Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in this year’s draft as Pittsburgh keeps an eye toward the post-Big Three Era.

That’s left Hextall in a tight spot as he attempts to fix a top-heavy team that for all of its star power is deeply flawed. The top two lines are fine. It’s what happens when the 35-year-old Crosby and the 36-year-old Malkin – both of whom are averaging a point a game – aren’t on the ice that’s the issue.

The third line of Jeff Carter, Kasperi Kapanen and a rotating group that has included Drew O'Connor and Brock McGinn has made little if any impact, a far cry from the vaunted “HBK” line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel that made the Penguins one of the deepest teams in the NHL during their back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016-17.

The goaltending behind starter Tristan Jarry has been spotty at best and Jarry looked rusty against the Islanders in his return from a monthlong absence because of a lower-body injury. Even a power play that features two players with more than 2,600 combined career points is decidedly average.

Still coach Mike Sullivan, who signed a contract extension last fall, remains optimistic his team is close to figuring it out. His mantra of “playing the right way” hasn’t changed much from the day he was hired in December 2015.

Asked if there’s concern that Sullivan’s message may not be impactful as it once was, Hextall shook his head.

“I think Sully is a terrific coach,” Hextall said when he last spoke to reporters earlier this month. “I would put him up against any coach in the league and if there’s any players that are not responding to him, I would look to move those players.”

Maybe, but barring something drastic, Pittsburgh will head into the final seven weeks of the season with essentially the same group that has flip-flopped between electric and erratic since October. It means the answers to what is ailing one of the league’s marquee franchises will likely have to come from within.

“There’s a lot of belief in here,” Crosby said. “It hasn’t gone our way lately but this is when you get tested as a group and you’ve got to make sure you respond the right way.”

The clock is ticking.

Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry to return against Islanders

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PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry will start when Pittsburgh hosts the New York Islanders.

Jarry, a two-time All-Star, hasn’t played since Jan. 22 due to an upper-body injury. He was scheduled to start on Jan. 24 against Florida but was scratched less than an hour before the opening face-off due to the injury.

The Penguins have struggled in Jarry’s absence, going just 4-5 over their last nine games to put the franchise’s streak of 16 straight playoff appearances in jeopardy heading into the final two months of the regular season.

“We’re anxious to get (Jarry) back in the net,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s feeling good, he’s feeling strong.”

Jarry has been solid when healthy this season. He is 16-5-5 with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in 27 starts. The Penguins are just 11-14-4 when he doesn’t play.

Pittsburgh enters play on Monday in the first of the wild-card spots available in the Eastern Conference. There are five teams within three points of the Penguins.