Brodeur withstood Malkin’s first career goal in his first game to become only the third goaltender in NHL 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, tying it at 1.
“I was worried, it’s the first game I’m playing,” Malkin said, speaking through interpreter George Birman. “In the future, I think it is going to be easier. I had no problems with the shoulder and, hopefully, that’s how I’m going to feel.”
Malkin also displayed a strong shot, causing a brief delay in the third period with his slapshot broke a pane of glass behind of the net.
Adding the 20-year-old Malkin to a lineup that already includes Sidney Crosby, who became the youngest player in the NHL history to score 100 points at age 18 last season, wasn’t enough to prop up a Penguins offense that has been surprisingly deficient with 12 goals in five games and 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 opening shift.
“I didn’t expect that, and it was nice for us to start what I hope is the first of many shifts together,” Crosby said. “It was good for him to get the first goal, there was a lot of buildup for this and, hopefully, he’ll get a lot more.”
The two created numerous scoring chances – the Penguins had a season-high 38 shots – but 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.
“I think people always look at round numbers, you see 450 and you notice it,” Brodeur said. “Now the race is on to 500, hopefully in a couple of years.”
Malkin’s goal came when he was sent out immediately after the Penguins killed a penalty. His shift began when he 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 30 seconds later, Malkin set up a Mark Recchi shot that Brodeur appeared to have corralled, only to have Malkin poke it in.
“I had it between my pads, and you have to protect the goalie in that situation,” said Brodeur, who felt play should have been stopped ahead of the goal. “You can’t have guys stabbing at the puck. If that’s not a goal, then there’s a fight, that’s why need to blow the whistle there.”
Malkin was visibly excited by the goal, pumping his fist underhanded at knee level several times. He banged his stick on the ice before trading hand slaps from his teammates as he skated along the bench, a huge smile on his face.
“Recchi gave me a great pass right on the stick and I gave him a pass,” Malkin said. “I just went to the net and shot the puck.”
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, though Crosby played well. His first career goal came in his third game, also in Pittsburgh.
Jay Pandolfo’s first goal of the season put the Devils up 1-0 in the first as he pushed a rebound 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. He thinks Crosby and Malkin have the potential to be megastars, too.
“There’s a great future for this franchise, and it’s great for the league, too, to have two guys with great futures in front of them like these guys,” Brodeur said.
Malkin, one of four Penguins players chosen with either the No. 1 or 2 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 waited for his second shot to score.
“And he’s only going to get better and better,” Therrien said.
Malkin was under pressure to stay with his hometown Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League this season – there is no transfer agreement for exchanging players between Russia and the NHL. But he sneaked away from the team in August, after agreeing to a one-year contract he said he was pressured into signing, and made his way to the United States.
Notes: Magnitogorsk is expected to sue the NHL and the Penguins over Malkin’s departure, a legal manoeuvre that appears to be designed to gain compensation for losing Malkin. … Malkin finished with two shots in 18 minutes, 15 seconds, second among Penguins forward to Crosby’s 21:25. … New Jersey, the NHL’s least-penalized team last season, has been penalized only once each in its last two games. … Brodeur is 26-16 with four ties against Pittsburgh.