Brodeur withstood Malkin’s first career goal to become only the third goaltender in league history to reach the 450-win mark, with Jamie Langenbrunner’s goal in the third period making the difference in the New Jersey Devils’ 2-1 victory over the Penguins on Wednesday.
Malkin, one of the most awaited young players in recent seasons, was everything he was supposed to be despite missing nearly a month of play with a dislocated left shoulder. The six-foot-four centre made exceptional passes, used his long reach to grab pucks and set up scoring chances. He also showed he could create scoring of his own by somehow finding a puck that Brodeur thought he had controlled and pushing it into the net at 18:38 of the second.
He also displayed a strong shot in his first game, so much so he caused a brief delay in the third period with a slapshot that broke a pane of glass to the side of the net.
But adding Malkin to a lineup that already includes Sidney Crosby, the youngest player in the NHL history to score 100 points in a season, wasn’t enough to prop up a Penguins offense that has been surprisingly deficient with only 12 goals in five games and only two in their last three home games, all losses.
Coach Michel Therrien unexpectedly played Malkin and Crosby on the same line at times in their first regulation game together, beginning with the first shift of the game after the Penguins saluted Malkin on the scoreboard with a video highlights reel from his international play minutes before the opening faceoff.
But while the two created numerous scoring chances – the Penguins had a season-high 38 shots – only Malkin was able to beat the 34-year-old Brodeur, who joined Patrick Roy (551) and Ed Belfour (457) as the only goalies with 450 or more victories in regular season games.
Sent out immediately after the Penguins killed a penalty, Malkin skated hard down the right side and put a shot on Brodeur that missed, but he recovered to make a backhand pass that Crosby nearly scored on. Still on the ice, Malkin subsequently set up a Mark Recchi shot that Brodeur appeared to have under control only to have Malkin poke it in when the puck stayed in the crease.
Malkin was visibly excited by the goal, pumping his fist underhanded at knee level several times before trading hand slaps from his teammates as he skated along the bench, a huge smile on his face.
Jay Pandolfo had scored his first of the season to put the Devils up 1-0 in the first as he missed pushing in a rebound but was able to nudge a second attempt past Marc-Andre Fleury, who played a strong game by turning aside 32 of 34 shots.
Langenbrunner’s game winner came midway through the third when, surrounded by three Penguins players, he gathered Patrik Elias’ drop pass and lifted it into the net from below the left circle for his third of the season.
Brodeur can thank the Penguins for 26 of his 450 victories, though they were much tougher on him earlier in his career when they had players such as Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in their lineup.
Malkin, now one of four draft picks chosen with either the No. 1 or 2 draft pick in the last four years, achieved what Lemieux did in his first Penguins game in 1984 by scoring in his first NHL game. Lemieux got his on his first shot of his first shift: Malkin had to wait for his second shot to score.
Malkin was under pressure to stay with his Magnitogorsk team of the Russian Super League this season – there is no transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL. But he sneaked away from the team in August, after signing a one-year contract he said he was pressured into signing, and made his way to the United States.
Magnitogorsk is expected to sue the NHL and the Penguins over Malkin’s departure, a legal maneuver that appears to be designed to gain compensation for losing Malkin.
Notes: Crosby didn’t score a goal in his first game: he was held by Brodeur and the Devils to an assist in a 5-1 New Jersey victory on Oct. 5, 2005. … Malkin finished with two shots in 18 minutes, 15 seconds, second among Penguins forward to Crosby’s 21:25 as the two occasionally played together but more often centred Pittsburgh’s top two lines.