PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin was held scoreless in three of his previous five games, and he missed practice Monday because he was ill.
It seemed the Penguins’ star was losing his grip on the NHL scoring title. One stellar performance was all Malkin needed to regain control.
The Russian all-star tied a career-high with five points to surpass 100 for the second consecutive season and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Atlanta Thrashers 6-2 Tuesday night.
“He played great tonight, and it’s fun to see that,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “When he’s playing well, everything he touches, he makes something happen. That’s a good feeling, and that’s a good sign for us when he’s going like that.”
Malkin had two goals and three assists to give him 102 points this season. He extended his lead in the scoring race over Crosby to 10 points.
“I’m happy because we won,” Malkin said. “We played great, the team played great. I did not feel great on the day off, but I was better today.”
Sergei Gonchar had a goal and three assists and Kris Letang and Crosby had two assists each for Pittsburgh in a game matching the two hottest teams in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta entered with a franchise-record six-game winning streak, and the Penguins improved to 11-1-3 under interim coach Dan Bylsma.
Bryan Little and Eric Boulton scored for Atlanta, which was playing without star wing Ilya Kovalchuk for the third straight game due to an unspecified upper body injury.
The Thrashers were miffed that rookie Zach Bogosian was knocked out of the game on a hit by Matt Cooke. Cooke was given a two-minute penalty for tripping on the play, but Atlanta wanted at least a major for kneeing.
“It was definitely knee-on-knee,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said. “The referee said if (Bogosian) was injured, (Cooke) would have gotten five minutes. He was injured – he just didn’t lay on the ice.”
That second-period incident stewed and likely led to a melee with 4:16 to play in which 44 penalty minutes were assessed and Boris Valabik sustained an unspecified injury in a fight with Eric Godard.
“To me (Bogosian) is an 18-year-old future superstar, and if people are going to protect superstars in this league then that was a knee in my book and in anyone’s book,” Valabik said.
“I think you can’t hurt anybody with a trip, and that (hit) you could hurt somebody with.”
Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal and Mark Eaton also scored for the Penguins, who are on a 9-0-2 run and are 9-1-1 in their past 11 at home.
Malkin’s first goal came during a 4-on-4 in the second when he spun a reverse backhand into the net from right in front of Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg while being shoved to the ice by Garnet Exelby.
Malkin’s 32nd came only 43 seconds later, on a one-timed slap shot from the right circle which made it 5-1.
“We had great power plays,” Malkin said. “Everybody played hard and we were good with our puck control. That makes it easy to get points when the power play is good.”
Gonchar had the primary assists on both Malkin goals. Gonchar scored his fifth power play goal, and sixth overall, in 15 games this season in the first and also assisted on Eaton’s third-period goal.
Malkin was awarded a penalty shot when he was pulled down during a breakaway with 2:56 to play in the game, but his forehand shot missed high to the left.
Atlanta took the lead 34 seconds into the game on Little’s 30th.
Malkin assisted on power-play goals by Gonchar and Kunitz during the final 11 minutes of the first. His final assist came on Eaton’s goal with 12:13 left in the contest.
Malkin had 106 points last season to finish second in the league.
This is the fourth consecutive season the Penguins have had a player score at least 100 points. Crosby had 102 in 2005-06 and 120 while winning the scoring title the following season. He has at least a point in 11 straight games and has five assists in his past two.
“You get nights like tonight from Malkin, and you get the previous game from Crosby,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s a luxury I have from our standpoint.”
Notes: The Penguins are 2-0-1 on a franchise record eight-game homestand. Kunitz’s goal was his third in two games and sixth in 10 games with Pittsburgh. Staal’s goal was his 20th, giving the Penguins five 20-goal scorers in their lineup. The Penguins have killed 32 of the past 34 power plays against them, including all seven Tuesday.