Saturday, January 19, 2008

Malkin dominates Canadiens

The game of hockey isn't always about statistics. Sometimes, it's about great players elevating their games to lead their team to victory.

Precisely the type of quality game Pens' star forward Evgeni Malkin had in their 2-0 road shutout of the Canadiens on Hockey Night In Canada (HNIC). Without top star Sidney Crosby (ankle sprain), the 21 year-old Russian who won the Calder last season dominated the action in all facets. He might not have lit up the scoreboard in his team's bounceback victory to pull in front of the idle Devils for the Atlantic Division lead but the former 2004 first overall selection controlled the play in all three zones.

He also had a couple of tremendous plays which started in his own end and almost led to goals if not for some splendid goaltending by Montreal's Cristobal Huet. The first such play took place in the opening stanza when Malkin took a puck and then worked a give-and-go with Petr Sykora before going around Andrei Markov and flipping a backhand saucer pass to a cutting Sergei Gonchar. But a sprawling Huet thwarted the chance.

Even though the Pens didn't score on the play, the breathtaking end-to-end rush was replayed a few times on the HNIC feed as the broadcasters gushed.

On another shift, Malkin threaded the needle from his own blueline to string Sykora for a breakaway. Only two unreal Huet stops kept the puck out.

This was the kind of plays you'd expect from a player as physically gifted as the 21 year-old Malkin. However, it was his defensive prowess which helped seal the victory for his team.

With the desperate Habs pulling Huet for an extra attacker and under 60 ticks left, Malkin made two great defensive reads. First, he broke up a pass at center ice to interrupt a Montreal rush. The second play, he outraced a Canadien to a Sykora pass gliding by before flipping a backhand into a vacated net with 12.4 seconds remaining.

On a night when backup goalie Dany Sabourin was splendid in swatting aside all 31 Montreal shots for a shutout giving Ty Conklin the night off, it was Malkin who was his team's best player. Or as the 'casters noted, "Best player on the ice all game."

A night before when his linemate went down, he promised to step up. Malkin shifted back to his natural position of center logging big minutes (22:57 TOI) and didn't miss a beat. This was a statement game by a very talented player.

One who will continue to assume the leadership role with Sid The Kid out.

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