PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Evgeni Malkin’s favourite running mate is serving a five-game NHL suspension.
No matter. The Pittsburgh Penguins star can handle things by himself when he needs to.
Malkin scored in his return from a lower-body injury, Sidney Crosby added his 16th goal, and the Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Monday night.
Pittsburgh won its sixth straight home game behind 32 saves by Marc-Andre Fleury and some vintage work by Malkin. The Russian missed Pittsburgh’s previous two games after hurting himself in a game-day skate on Thursday.
He appeared to be just fine when he bulled his way toward the Columbus net 4:16 into the second period for his eighth goal of the season. Malkin brushed off defenceman Jack Johnson and then deftly poked a shot past the outstretched stick of goalie Curtis McElhinney.
Not bad for a guy who sometimes struggles when separated from linemate James Neal, who served the first game of the suspension he received for kneeing Boston’s Brad Marchand in the head during a loss on Saturday.
“There’s no doubt they’re good together,” Crosby said. “They’re both really good players. When they don’t have each other, they’re capable of making plays, too.”
Crosby pushed his point total to an NHL-best 43 when a centring pass from Pascal Dupuis deflected off Crosby’s leg and into the net 8:52 into the third.
“It looked like that was the only way I was going to score tonight the way it was going,” Crosby said. “I had some really pretty chances that didn’t go in … that second one ended up being important for us.”
Matt Calvert scored with less than a minute left for Columbus, spoiling Fleury’s shutout bid. McElhinney made 28 saves but the Blue Jackets struggled again in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have won all three meetings this season by a combined score of 9-3.
“You never want to go 0-3 against a division rival,” Calvert said. “They’re four-point games, and you lose a lot of points in the race.”
Fleury was sharp when tested, though the Penguins did an excellent job of keeping the Blue Jackets from spending too much time in his face.
There were few close calls by the Blue Jackets after the opening 10 minutes. Fleury’s only mistake came when he narrowly missed scoring a goal into an empty net with a minute to play, inadvertently sparking a sequence that led to Calvert getting loose for his second goal of the season with 56 seconds remaining.
Pittsburgh, which allowed two goals to Boston in the final minute on Saturday, didn’t collapse this time.
“The main thing is we got the win, got the two points,” Fleury said. “That’s what matters.”
The Blue Jackets are hoping to take a step forward this season after moving over to the Eastern Conference following 13 mostly dismal seasons in the West. Injuries, however, have slowed their development.
Columbus is missing forwards Marion Gaborik and Nathan Horton, defenceman James Wisniewski, and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Gaborik and Bobrovsky are out until after the new year. Horton is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
The Blue Jackets had won three of four, including consecutive shutouts over Tampa Bay and Minnesota, to climb within three games of .500. They controlled play at the outset, controlling the puck for long stretches but had trouble generating solid scoring chances.
“We didn’t have clean shooting lanes,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “They created a lot of second chances, it seems like they created rebounds off Mac’s pads, and it seems like our shots were caught or hit (Fleury) in the chest.”
In addition to Neal, the Penguins also played without defencemen Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi. Orpik is sidelined indefinitely after being knocked out by Boston’s Shawn Thornton on Saturday.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Monday that Orpik is “doing quite well” but issued no timetable for his return.
NOTES: The Blue Jackets scratched Wisniewski, D Tim Erixon and forward Jack Skille. … Pittsburgh also scratched forward Harry Zolnierczyk and D Brian Dumoulin. … The Penguins are 8-1 when they have been outshot.