|Penguins go for seventh straight win at Florida|
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin is in for quite a battle.
Malkin has an amazing 20 goals and 37 points since Jan. 1. He has 34 goals this season, tied with fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals for the league lead.
"I do believe there's a competition (among them)," Penguins assistant coach Sergei Gonchar told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's an honor to be the top goal-scorer in the league. But if it (were) an American or Canadian (they were competing against), they're going to compete just as hard."
Malkin, who continued his roll with one goal and two assists in Friday's 6-1 Penguins win over the Carolina Hurricanes, will try to add to his total on Saturday night when the Penguins visit the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.
The Penguins continued their roll as well, winning their sixth straight on Friday while also acquiring
forward Derick Brassard in a three-team trade with the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights. The Penguins also received a 2018 third-round draft pick and prospect forward Vincent Dunn from the Senators; and the Pens also received prospect forward Tobias Lindberg from the Golden Knights.
Pittsburgh traded defenseman Ian Cole, goalie Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round draft pick and a 2019 third-round selection to the Senators, and forward Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-round draft pick originally acquired from Vancouver to the Golden Knights.
Brassard has averaged 19 goals and 48 points over the past five seasons (including this one factored in). Three years ago, he had a career-best 27 goals with the New York Rangers, so his addition strengthens the Penguins down the middle.
The Panthers are coming off an incredibly emotional game as they rallied with two goals in the final four minutes to defeat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Thursday night.
Vincent Trocheck scored a power-play goal with 18.7 seconds left, and that stood as the game-winner.
But there was major drama before the game, too.
Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo fought back tears as he spoke to the BB&T Center crowd just a couple of minutes before the start of the game.
This was the Panthers' first home game since last week's deadly shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Luongo, a resident of Parkland, spoke to the crowd about his admiration for the students, who have loudly pushed for change after yet another school shooting.
"I've been watching the news. I've been seeing what the kids from Douglas have been doing," Luongo told the crowd. "You guys are brave. You guys are an inspiration to all of us. You guys are what is giving us hope for the future."
Things should be a bit more normalized on Saturday, and the Panthers -- winners of eight of their past 11 games -- have thrust themselves into the playoff race.
The Panthers are led by Trocheck, with a team-best 23 goals, and Aleksander Barkov, with a team-high 55 points. Both have made the All-Star Game -- Trocheck in 2017 and Barkov in 2018.
Another Panthers star is Jonathan Huberdeau, who leads the team with 36 assists.
The Penguins, meanwhile, have Malkin and the incomparable Sidney Crosby, a seven-time All-Star, two-time regular season MVP, two-time Stanley Cup MVP, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time Stanley Cup champ.
Then again, nobody has been hotter lately than Malkin, who has 11 goals and 18 points in his past seven home games.
"When he's feeling it like this, you can't take the puck off of him," Crosby told the Post-Gazette. "He's taking the puck from end to end. He's taking it to the net. He's shooting. He's good in every area.
"You can tell he has that extra step. He has that right now."