PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Evgeni Malkin doesn’t necessarily go out on the ice with a game plan. The way he’s playing, he doesn’t exactly need one.
Malkin got his 22nd goal of the season then later scored in the shootout and the Pittsburgh Penguins edged Carolina 2-1 on Tuesday night.
With captain Sidney Crosby sidelined indefinitely with a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms, it’s Malkin who has taken up the scoring slack, with extraordinary results.
He followed up a five-point performance in a win over Tampa Bay on Sunday by skating 25 impressive minutes.
“He’s getting the lion’s share of responsibilities right now in a lot of areas and playing outstanding,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
Even if Malkin doesn’t agree. Though he fired off six shots at Carolina’s Cam Ward and had another half-dozen go just wide of the net, Malkin wasn’t entirely impressed with his play.
“Every game I have lots of chances but can’t score,” Malkin said. “Good goalies have played against us. Today, Ward, he was unbelievable.”
Ward stopped 40 shots but had no answer for Malkin or James Neal in the shootout, with Neal easily beating the veteran to lift the Penguins to their third straight victory following a six-game losing streak.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves and stopped Carolina’s Eric Staal’s backhand bid to extend the shootout as Pittsburgh won at Consol Energy Center for the first time in 2012, ending a four-game skid on home ice.
“We’ve got to keep (the losing streak) right close to us and we’ve got to keep going the same way and make sure that we keep playing the way that we know that we can and the way that’s made us successful over these last three games,” Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke said.
Despite Ward’s spectacular play and Jamie McBain’s fourth goal of the season—including his third against Pittsburgh—Carolina remained winless in Pittsburgh’s new building since it opened during the 2010-11 season.
The Hurricanes went 0 for 3 on the power play and couldn’t take advantage of a couple of great chances against Fleury in overtime.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” McBain said. “You know, once again we’re feeling good about our game and we’ve just got to keep fighting and eventually the results will turn.”
It’s a situation the Penguins were in during a two-week tailspin that included listless losses to some of the Eastern Conference’s top teams.
The Penguins improved to 19-15-3 this season without Crosby, who will visit Dr. Ted Carrick this week as he continues to deal with concussion-like symptoms. Carrick, a chiropractic neurologist, successfully treated the 2009 MVP last summer.
There remains no timetable for Crosby’s return, though Malkin has done his best to pick up the slack.
The Russian almost single-handedly led the Penguins to a weekend sweep through Florida over the weekend, including a natural hat trick in the third period of a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday.
“He’s at the front of the rope tugging hard right now and we need him to do that,” Cooke said.
After McBain put Carolina in front at 2:11 of the first after jumping into the play and firing a shot by Fleury, Malkin tied it late in the period with one of his prettiest goals of the season, stealing a clearing attempt then roofing a backhand over Ward’s glove.
“It was a pretty lucky goal,” Malkin said. “I just saw Ward going down so I shoot high.”
The Penguins, second in the NHL in shots per game, continued to fire away at Ward though the veteran was equal to the challenge.
Fleury wasn’t quite as busy, but saved his best for the extra session, coming up with a couple of stops on the doorstep to give the Penguins some needed momentum heading into a busy stretch.
Carolina forward Jeff Skinner left briefly in the third period after taking an open-ice hit from Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik.
Skinner was playing in just his second game since missing 16 games with a concussion. The 19-year-old centre was on the ice for several moments before being helped to the bench, but returned later and was part of Carolina’s three-man shootout.
Orpik was called for interference on the play, though Skinner took some of the blame.
“(Orpik) made a good play,” Skinner said. “The (defenceman) is supposed to step up and take the body or the puck and he did a good job of taking my body.”
Notes: Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin notched his 200th career point by assisting on Malkin’s goal. … The Penguins travel to New York on Thursday to play the Rangers while the Hurricanes host Washington on Friday. … Carolina is 8-11-4 since Kirk Muller took over for Paul Maurice at the end of November. … Jaroslav Spacek, Chad Larose and Jerome Samson were scratched by the Hurricanes while the Penguins scratched Arron Asham.