PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin couldn’t have done a much better imitation of Sidney Crosby. On this night, even that wasn’t good enough to outduel Alexander Ovechkin.
Ovechkin finished off an exceptional game by teaming with Alexander Semin to beat Pittsburgh goalie Ty Conklin with backhanders in the shootout and the Washington Capitals came from behind for a 6-5 victory Monday night.
Ovechkin and Malkin had two goals and an assist apiece during a matchup of Russian stars in which each seemed determined to not be upstaged by the other. One good shift would be followed by a better shift by the other, with the two stars figuring in five goals – each scoring twice – in a hectic 12-minute span.
“I thought it was a great show of two young superstars trying to be king of the hill,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said.
However, Malkin, 0-for-5 in shootout attempts this season, never got the puck in the shootout. Penguins coach Michel Therrien went with three other skaters, with only Jarkko Ruutu beating goalie Olaf Kolzig.
Pittsburgh couldn’t get the winning goal despite having a rare two-man advantage for one minute, seven seconds of overtime and being on the power play for nearly three minutes of the five-minute extra period.
Ryan Malone put the Penguins up 5-4 about five minutes into the third, tipping in Sergei Gonchar’s shot from between the circles. Viktor Kozlov sent it into overtime with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining with his second goal of the game and eighth of the season, with Niklas Backstrom getting his fourth assist of the game.
The all-star game isn’t until Sunday, but the NHL can only hope it gets a couple of its stars playing at the level Ovechkin and Malkin did. Chosen 1-2 in the 2004 draft, with Ovechkin going first, the former Russian Olympic teammates put on a show in one of the league’s best regular season games this season.
“It really seems to be a battle between the two,” Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said.
Upstairs in a private box, injured star Crosby and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux clearly enjoyed a wide-open game that resembled those played early in Lemieux’s career in the 1980s.
Malkin promised Friday after Crosby was lost indefinitely with a high ankle sprain to try to replace Crosby’s missing offence and, so far, he has with three goals and an assist in Pittsburgh’s first two games without Crosby.
“Yeah, we lost our best player and you can’t really replace him,” Malkin said, speaking through interpreter George Firman. “It’s not (only) me, everybody has to keep up with every game.”
Malkin had to be very good in this game merely to stay with Ovechkin, even though the Capitals star insisted he wasn’t trying to outdo his friend.
“I just play for the team. It doesn’t matter if you’re Russian or Canadian,” Ovechkin said after the Capitals won their fourth in a row and sixth in seven games to get above .500 at 22-21-5. “It’s a game, and I think nobody has friends on the ice.”
For all the goals, it was Malkin’s hard check of Ovechkin near the end of the first that got the sellout crowd going, chanting his nickname of “Geno, Geno, Geno.” Malkin, normally not a physical player, sent Ovechkin flying by lowering his shoulder as Malkin carried the puck behind the Washington net.
“If I didn’t hit him, maybe he scored more goals, who knows?” Ovechkin said despite getting the worse of the collision. “I can’t hear after the game, ‘What are you doing, why didn’t you hit him?”‘
Ovechkin obviously wasn’t intimidated, scoring a power-play goal less than two minutes into the second period on a soft shot that almost fluttered as it landed behind goalie Dany Sabourin, putting Washington up 3-2.
Malkin, who took seven of the Penguins’ 15 shots, responded less than two minutes later with his 26th goal by snapping off a shot from the slot, only 16 seconds after Pittsburgh went on another power play.
The Penguins, outshot 30-15, made it 4-3 less than three minutes later on another power play, as Ryan Whitney faked a shot from the top of the left circle before sliding the puck to Petr Sykora at the right side of the net.
Ovechkin, of course, came back less than two minutes after that with his league-best 38th goal, a slap shot from the left circle that led Therrien to pull Sabourin and bring in Conklin.
Pittsburgh, despite being 10-1-2 in its last 13 games, is so depleted by injuries that nearly one-third of its current roster began the season in the minors. Forwards Chris Minard and Jonathan Filewich made their NHL debuts Monday.
Notes: The Penguins had won seven in a row at home against Washington. … Malkin has 12 goals in 11 games. … Ovechkin has six goals and seven assists in 11 games against the Penguins, but beat them for only the second time. … Washington is 2-2 in shootouts, Pittsburgh is 6-3. … Kolzig won despite making only 10 saves. … Ovechkin missed nearly as many shots (9) as the entire Penguins team (10).