Pens blank Oilers 4-0 in Malkin's return
Welcome back, Geno.
In his first game on the ice since an injury sidelined him back on Jan. 24, Evgeni Malkin got right down to brass tacks, scoring a goal and dishing a top-tier assist leading Pittsburgh (35-13-7) to a dominating 4-0 victory over Vancouver (25-6-6) Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Malkin struck pay dirt five minutes into the 2nd period when Olli Maatta went cross ice to the wide-open Malkin, who slapped in his 23rd goal of the season off the back door of goalie Ryan Miller to open the scoring for the Pens.
“You can see the influence he has on the team,” said coach Mike Sullivan on the importance of Malkin. “We become a much more difficult team to play against because of the balance we have with him. It helps all of the lines because he is such a threat when he is on the ice. He is one of those elite players in the league that has the ability to change the outcome of a game, and he certainly did that for us tonight.”
Malkin finished the game logging 18:36 of ice time with the goal and an assist, a Le’Veon Bell-esque patience clinic at the crease while two defenders skipped past #71, who seconds later kicked it to Phil Kessel (20) for the backdoor finish on Miller that gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 advantage late in the 3rd period.
“I feel okay,” said Malkin. “The first game back is always hard but afterwards I feel so much better. The next game I hope I feel even better, and get the confidence back and just start skating better.”
Malkin achieved his league-leading 33rd assist, while Sidney Crosby, who is now one more point shy of reaching the 1,000-point plateau tied Conor McDavid for most points in the league (61) when he assisted Jake Guentzel (6) on the Pens’ second goal of the game early in the 2nd period.
Overall Pittsburgh hung 42 shots on Miller, including 17 in the 3rd period.
Matt Murray’s experience was much more tranquil, as the Pens’ goalie achieved his 3rd shutout of the season, stopping all 29 Canucks shots.
“I thought Matt had a solid game,” said Sullivan of Murray. “We had a few breakdowns where we gave up a few high-quality chances, one that resulted in a breakaway and we got key saves from Matt at key times when the game was close. We like to limit the quality of the chances, and that goes back to the decisions we make with the puck. There were a few chances tonight where we mismanaged the puck a little bit but Matt was there to make the saves for us.”
“I think we’ve been pretty sound for a while,” said Murray about the team’s defensive outlook. “I think when we play the right way, don’t force things on offense then we’re a hard team to play against. We don’t feed into the other team’s transition and I think that’s what we did tonight. We carried the play pretty much all night.”
Murray continued about how it felt to eclipse another shutout on the 2017 campaign.
“It’s nice, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. We want to get the win, that’s what you focus on and everything else doesn’t really matter.”
Matt Cullen (9) rounded out the scoring for the Penguins, punching in the last goal of the night with just two minutes left in the game. Trevor Daley, who clutched a point on the day’s card, notched his 200th assist of the season on the Malkin goal.
After the Moneyline
As per usual, the Pens came into tonight’s game the chalkiest favorite on the board at a whopping -310. The total became sucker bet paradise at 5.5, with only four total goals being scored, the right bet was unequivocally the “sharp” bet.
The Penguins will look to continue their winning ways at home when they host Winnipeg on Thursday, Feb. 16. Puck drops at 7 PM.