Ever since they were drafted No. 1 and No. 2 overall in 2004, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin have provided an intriguing contrast in styles—both on and off the ice. While the brash and colorful Ovechkin has grabbed the headlines and endorsement deals, Malkin has quietly gone about his business with a determined excellence.
On Sunday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center, “Geno” snatched the spotlight from his countryman. Capping a typically brilliant display by the Russian rivals (each collected a goal and two assists) Malkin trumped Ovechkin with a game-winning goal in overtime to lead the white-hot Penguins to a 4-3 victory over Washington.
The fans in attendance—not to mention a national TV audience on NBC—were treated to three hockey games in one. Entering the game on a roll, the Penguins dominated the opening 20 minutes. Kris Letang staked the Pens to an early lead at 4:51 when he picked off a clearing attempt by Roman Hamrlik and rifled a power-play goal past Michal Neuvirth from center point.
Barely a minute later the home team was up by two. Malkin won a draw below the left circle and pulled the puck back to James Neal at the faceoff dot. Neal pulled the trigger and beat Neuvirth with a scorching blast for his 25th goal of the campaign.
Playing before their 233rd consecutive home sellout, the black-and-gold controlled the tempo until the closing minute of the period, when Eric Tangradi handed Washington a power play. Although the Capitals failed to cash in with the man advantage, they succeeded in wrenching the momentum away from their hosts. Brooks Laich pared the Pens’ lead in half at the 12-minute mark, redirecting a feed from Dennis Wideman past Marc-Andre Fleury from the lip of the crease. Less than four minutes later Alexander Semin knotted the score off the rush with a beautiful backhander.
Held to a paltry five shots during the second period, the Pens came out flatfooted in the final frame as well. At 1:08 Semin found a streaking Ovechkin with a pretty cross-ice pass. “Ovy” lashed the puck inside the left post for his 20th goal, eliciting a chorus of boos from the partisan crowd.
Things looked bleak for the Penguins, who suddenly were staring at a 3-2 deficit. But once again Malkin brought his team back from the brink. In an incredible display of passion he drove through three Caps defenders, won a puck battle behind the net, and chipped a short pass to Neal below the right-wing circle. Number 18 did the rest, firing a seeing-eye bullet through traffic for the game-tying goal.
His competitive juices flowing full bore, Malkin sealed the victory for the Pens at 1:31 of overtime. Paul Martin tipped a Letang blast wide of the goal. The puck caromed off the end boards to Geno, who was stationed to the right of the Caps’ net. With a flash of his marvelous hands Malkin whipped the rubber past Neuvirth for the game-winner.
“I have great confidence now, you know?” Malkin said afterward. “You win six games, I think everyone has great confidence now. I just am enjoying the game, you know? And having fun.”
Malkin earned the No. 1 star … Neal (two goals and an assist) was voted the No. 2 star … Pittsburgh out-shot the Capitals 27-20 … Chris Kunitz (plus-2) provided screens on two Penguins goals … Brooks Orpik and Tangradi (6:49 of ice time) paced the Pens with four hits each … The Caps out-hit the Pens 29-21 … Tyler Kennedy tangled with Troy Brouwer in the second period … Arron Asham, Sidney Crosby, Simon Despres, Ben Lovejoy, Jordan Staal, and Jason Williams were scratches.
The Penguins (27-17-4) visit St. Louis to take on the much-improved Blues (29-12-6) on Tuesday night. The Blues beat the Pens 3-2 on November 23.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.