|Malkin the Penguins center of attention vs. Canadiens|
Going into Pittsburgh's Tuesday home game against the Montreal Canadiens, the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin has been reminding everyone that he is his club's other superstar center.
In the 13 games that Sidney Crosby has missed because of a sports hernia that required surgery, Malkin has six goals and 14 assists.
In addition to being a three-time Stanley Cup winner, Malkin is two-time winner Art Ross Trophy (top scorer) and a winner of the Calder Trophy (top rookie), Hart Trophy (regular-season MVP) and Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP). He knows his way around elite offense.
Now he's adding other elements, and doing it at a high level.
"I'm thrilled with (Malkin's) game right now," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "The offense is obvious to everyone. But he's winning faceoffs. We're using him in (defensive) zone situations. ... He's playing with structure."
Malkin made a stated point of upping his offseason workouts and preparation after what for him was a down season in 2018-19. Then he got hurt in the second game of this season and missed nearly a month.
Now Malkin seems to be hitting the stride he was seeking.
"I see it," Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang told The Athletic. "I definitely do. He's improved his game on both sides of the puck so much this season.
"I think he's getting rewarded now. His defense is so good that it's creating a lot of turnovers and a lot of scoring rushes for us. Before, he was just trying to beat guys one-on-one all the time. That gets tough, no matter who you are. By playing better defense, he's helping himself."
That also goes for the team. Pittsburgh is 7-3-3 without Crosby.
The Canadiens, since going eight games without a regulation win (0-5-3) and getting outscored a collective 38-20, have won two of three by a combined 8-6, including a 2-1 victory Friday against the Rangers in New York.
"The last couple games we've been playing well, giving up way less chances, way less odd-man rushes," Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot said. "We haven't been getting necessarily the wins that we would want, but the way we've been playing is the right way to play -- a lot better structure defensively.
"And goal-scoring is going to have to come by committee with our team. It's not one guy or two guys. ... When we have those two things going for us, I think we're a pretty good team."
As a goaltender, Montreal's Carey Price can appreciate the improved defensive performance.
"I think we're playing ... well, I know we're playing better on our side of the puck," Price said. "We're getting on top of their forwards coming back. It's all about just commitment."
Despite the lull that Montreal seems to be overcoming, the team is still in the middle of the Atlantic Division pack.
"There's ups and downs," winger Brendan Gallagher said. "We know how quickly you can move up, how quickly you can move down. You've just got to be able to handle that. What we went through the last few weeks wasn't enjoyable. We've got to learn from it."
On Sunday, Montreal recalled forward Riley Barber, a Pittsburgh area native who led Laval of the American Hockey League with 18 points in 21 games.
--Field Level Media