The Penguins have gained at least a point in 16 consecutive games, going 14-0-2 – their longest run since an 18-game run that ended the 1992-93 season and included their league-record 17-game winning streak. The surprise is that NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby, who has 91 points, is slumping with only one goal in 10 games.
Instead, it’s been Malkin who has keyed the run with 10 goals and 16 assists in 17 games.
Until Washington’s Alexander Semin scored in the final minute, not long after he missed a penalty shot, the game much resembled Pittsburgh’s 2-0 victory over Washington on Feb. 3. Namely, more tight checking and hitting than goal scoring by teams with offensive reputations and a number of top young scorers.
Mark Recchi and Maxime Talbot added goals for the Penguins, and Richard Zednik also scored for the Capitals.
Penguins backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault made his first start since Jan. 27, turning aside 29 shots for his third victory this season. The Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin missed his five shots and has only one goal and one assist in his last seven games.
Malkin, the No. 2 pick in the 2004 NHL draft behind Ovechkin, has played a major role as the Penguins have moved to within five points of Atlantic Division leader New Jersey after not being one of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference barely a month ago.
Of Malkin’s 29 goals, perhaps none was more creative than his score late in the second period. With the score tied 1-1, Malkin carried the puck out from behind the Capitals’ net and fed it up the boards to Sergei Gonchar – at this time a year ago, Malkin’s Russian Olympic teammate.
Malkin took Gonchar’s giveback pass and, from along the goal-line, one-timed a perfectly placed left-handed shot inside the far post, almost before Washington backup goalie Brent Johnson could react. Capitals No. 1 Olaf Kolzig is out with a knee injury.
Talbot made it 3-1 about a minute into the third period with his third goal in four games, immediately after Washington’s Donald Brashear pulled down Erik Christensen for what would have been a penalty if Talbot hadn’t scored.
Semin could have tightened the game by scoring on his penalty shot with about 6 minutes remaining, but shot wide. A few minutes before, Semin left the ice in pain after apparently being hit in the chest by a stick.
Recchi scored his 20th of the season on a power play for Pittsburgh in the first, giving him 15 seasons with 20 or more goals. Zednik answered for Washington by scoring about a minute later by deflecting Jeff Schultz’s shot from the high slot past a screened Thibault.
Notes: Five of the NHL’s six top scorers who are 22 are under were on the ice: Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Semin and Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal. . . . The Penguins are 3-0 against the Capitals this season and have won six of the last seven against them. . . . Washington has lost its last six road games. . . . Crosby assisted on Recchi’s goal and now has four goals and eight assists in seven NHL games against Ovechkin. Ovechkin has three goals and five assists.