The ballyhooed matchup of last season’s top two rookies lived up to the hype, but Malkin – this year’s leading rookie – was the star on Monday night. He notched a goal and assisted on one by Crosby in regulation, then scored the decisive tally in the shootout as the Pittsburgh Penguins erased a four-goal deficit and beat Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals 5-4.
“He’s done it a million times, I think,” Crosby said of Malkin, who teamed with Ovechkin on Russia’s Olympic team this year. “He looks so smooth out there. He does it in practice, and he does it with ease in key situations. One-one-one with a goalie, I like our odds with him.”
Erik Christensen also scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, 2-3-1 in the past six games.
Chris Clark had two goals and two assists for the Capitals, who led 4-0 in the second period but couldn’t hold on for their sixth win in seven games. Washington is 0-5 in shootouts this season.
The Penguins stormed back with goals in the middle frame from Maxime Talbot, Christensen and Crosby, who scored for the fourth straight game.
“There’s no question there’s more emotion, but it’s natural for it to be like that,” Crosby said of facing Ovechkin. “I don’t think guys are adding anything to it than what it is. Everyone knows when it’s a bigger stage guys want to rise to the occasion.
“I don’t feel I have to rescue a franchise or a league. I’m happy to be part of both, but I think there’s a lot of young talent, a lot of guys who can bring excitement besides me and Alex.”
Malkin tied it 3:20 into the third period.
“Sid was playing really good, and he gave a good pass, and I finished it,” Malkin said through an interpreter.
Brooks Orpik was ejected midway through the second period for fighting with Washington’s Bryan Muir, who also was ejected. Jarkko Rutuu was penalized as instigator of the brawl.
“It’s a great comeback,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “We matched their intensity and we started skating with them. Orpik and Ruutu went over and got physically involved and we built from that.”
Ovechkin had the Capitals’ only goal in the shootout against Penguins’ youngster Marc-Andre Fleury, who turned aside Mike Green and Chris Clark after making 29 saves through overtime.
“It was an unbelievable game to watch,” Ovechkin said. “We dominated the first period and 10 minutes of the second period and then just stopped playing.
“Sometimes that happens. Nothing is a lock, you know? We’re just disappointed right now.”
Crosby, the runner-up to Ovechkin last season for rookie of the year honors, leads the Penguins with 14 goals and 41 points. He assisted on Malkin’s goal but failed to convert in the shootout.
Crosby leads All-Star voting in the Eastern Conference, while Ovechkin is second among forwards.
The Penguins wore their helmets backward – rally style – during the shootout, and it paid off as they played their third straight overtime game.
Malkin got the Penguins there this time when he slipped a backhander past goalie Olie Kolzig.
“Anytime you play as bad as we did in the first period and you’re able to bring it back up in the second and third, it’s a good feeling,” Crosby said. “I think it was fun to see the way we were chipping away.”
The Capitals made it 4-0 on a short-handed goal by Boyd Gordon, who skated uncontested to the net and beat Fleury gloveside.
That set up Pittsburgh’s rally.
Talbot got things going at 6:49 and Christensen made it 4-2 with 1:52 remaining in the period. Just 35 seconds later, Crosby’s 14th of the season brought the Penguins within a goal.
Ovechkin was denied in front of the net by three Penguins, but he dug out the puck and scooped it to Clark, who scored his second of the game to make it 3-0.
Kris Beech gave Washington a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal just 5:10 into the game. The lead doubled 46 seconds later when Clark scored from nearly the same spot as his first goal – stuffing in a rebound of Ovechkin’s shot.
Notes: Ovechkin has 18 goals and 37 points after his two-assist night. … The Capitals are 6-2-3 in their last 11 home games against the Penguins.