The highly touted Russian rookie scored for the third straight game, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.
Malkin scored on a wrist shot midway through the third period to put Pittsburgh ahead 4-2 and become the first player to score in his first three NHL games since Jan Caloun did it for the San Jose Sharks in 1995-96.
Malkin laughed when asked, through an interpreter, if he expects to keep that streak intact for the duration of his career.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “But I’m going to try very hard every game and keep working hard.”
Pittsburgh, which won its second straight, got two short-handed goals – one on a penalty shot – from 18-year-old Jordan Staal, their first-round draft pick in June. Michel Ouellet and Sergei Gonchar scored the first two goals for Pittsburgh, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 36 shots.
However, it was Malkin who stole the spotlight again four days after his sensational NHL debut.
The Penguins led 3-2 lead in the third period, with Columbus having controlled most of the play for the previous 35 minutes.
They took control shortly after Sidney Crosby moved into the Blue Jackets’ zone with a power play about to expire and deftly glided backward near the right dot to draw two penalty-killers toward him. He then passed to Malkin, trailing the play, atop the circle, and Malkin’s first shot of the evening beat goalie Fredrik Norrena low to the far post at 7:04.
“As soon as I crossed the blue-line, I saw him,” Crosby said of Malkin. “It was just a matter of waiting for him to come over and get open. He made a great shot. Quick and accurate.”
Malkin expressed no surprise that Crosby, who has four assists in his past two games, saw him coming.
“He’s the best player,” Malkin said. “I knew this pass was coming.”
He also knew, apparently, where to shoot on Norrena, who had made three exceptional saves earlier in the period.
“I saw the move the goaltender made to Crosby and the opening he left on the other side,” Malkin said. “I shot it there.”
After his goal, Malkin pointed toward his family – father Vladimir, mother Natalia and brother Denis – in the crowd, watching him in North America for the first time.
Gilbert Brule, Fredrik Modin and Nikolai Zherdev scored for Columbus, which lost its third straight and fifth in seven games this season.
“It’s disappointing to lose, but I thought the effort was there,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Pittsburgh did a good job jamming the net and getting pucks to the crease, and they banged a few home.”
Norrena, a Finn making his NHL debut at age 32 after more than a decade of professional hockey in Europe, stopped 29 of 34 shots.
“It was tough for him because of all the chances they had and all the power plays,” Gallant said.
Pittsburgh was 3 for 9 with the man-advantage.
“We were doing a lot of penalty-killing out there,” winger Jason Chimera said.
The game might have meant as much to Staal as it did for Malkin. By NHL rules, Pittsburgh can use Staal for three more games before deciding whether to return him to his Canadian junior team or keep him in the NHL. The Penguins’ first-round pick in the June draft has scored three goals in six games, all short-handed.
“Obviously, this was good for me,” Staal said. “I’m just trying to play my best hockey.”
Staal’s first goal broke a 2-2 tie at 14:43 of the second period. He overpowered Columbus defenceman Duvie Westcott just outside the crease and used his long reach to rap a rebound behind Norrena.
Staal’s penalty shot came at 7:49 in unusual fashion. His forehand attempt clanged hard off the left post, prompting referee Marc Joannette to signal there was no goal. Before the puck settled, though, it caromed off Norrena’s leg pad and into the net. A replay overturned the initial call, and a goal was awarded.
“It’s not my day when a goal goes in like that,” Norrena said.
Zherdev closed the scoring on a two-man advantage at 15:25 of the third period.
Notes Pittsburgh did not record its fourth victory until its 15th game last season. … Blue Jackets centre Sergei Fedorov missed a sixth game to a strained shoulder, but he could return Monday. … It was the teams’ first meeting in Pittsburgh since Dec. 13, 2003.