Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby combined for seven points, as the Penguins defeated the New York Islanders 5-3 Wednesday night.
If you were ever in a heated debate about why Evgeni Malkin is the best player in the National Hockey League right now and had trouble defending your position, fear not. Gino just gave you enough evidence to win that argument for the rest of your life.
Tonight against the Isles, Malkin played the best 60 minutes of hockey he has played this season—and, possibly, the best 60 minutes of hockey in his career. He had a hat trick and added an assist, but he was a force in so many other ways.
He was killing penalties. He had two shorthanded scoring chances. He was tracking the puck in the defensive zone, like Scott Hartnell tracking a little boy in downtown Philadelphia.
Everywhere you looked tonight, No. 71 in white was there. Bill Guerin probably pulled a muscle in his right eye watching Malkin and Crosby skate past him at least 10 times in the third period.
Doug Weight aged at least three years during the third period, which ruled out the possibility of him retiring before the age of 55.
Someone stole Doug Weight's Metamucil out of his locker before the game. He responded by taking a slashing penalty a minute into the first period.
On the early power play, the Penguins looked surprisingly good. Malkin and Bobby Boucher each got some pucks to the net. Tyler Kennedy worked hard in front of Old MacDonald, but the Pens weren't able to get on the board.
The Isles killed the penalty, and Weight came out of the box and told Boucher that "water sucks." Boucher cross-checked him in the back and headed to the box. Weight scored on the ensuing power play, then proceeded to mock Boucher's stuttering problem on his way back to the bench. 1-0 Isles.
After the goal, Alex Goli-joke-ski made another terrible play in the defensive zone. Gogo tripped over his own feet and coughed the puck up right in front of his own net. The Isles almost scored, and hopefully someone else noticed the blunder besides me.
Josh Bailey and Andy Hilbert set up Bill Guerin's goal at 8:55 of the first to give the Isles a two-goal lead.
The Pens had lost all momentum and something needed to happen. Enter Eric Godard. Godard dropped the gloves with Fritz.
If you ever wondered what the offspring of Paul Bunyan and Grizzly Adams would look like, Fritz is about as close as you're going to get to finding the answer.
Godard chopped down the tree in a solid outing, but the fight did little to energize a stagnant Pittsburgh offense. The horrendous ice conditions in the Nassuck Coliseum probably didn't help much either.
Despite the frustrating nature of the period, there were a total of 22 shots on goal between the teams.
Max Talbot left the game early in the first period after taking a slap shot off the inside of his right foot. He didn't return in the game, and the Pens were limited to 11 forwards for the second consecutive game.
After a pretty bad finish to the first period, the first half of the second might have actually been worse.
The puck might have left the Penguins' zone twice during the first 10 minutes of the period. Bill Guerin scored a goal to make it 3-0 Isles, and Michel Therrien went to the bullpen.
Rookie John Curry came in to relieve Sabourin, and Curry would hold the fort for the rest of the game.
The Isles tested Curry early, but he was solid. Pascal Dupuis took his usual hooking penalty in the second period, giving the Isles a power play.
The ensuing power play was where the course of the game changed. It started with Curry making two huge saves.
Then, there were 71s everywhere.
Malkin came out on the penalty kill, started an odd-man rush, and rang one off the post. He backchecked, forced a turnover, created another odd-man rush, and went between his legs with the puck, but shot it over the net.
He backchecked again, forced another turnover, cleared the puck, and went to the bench. He probably didn't even need any water when he got there.
Crosby and Staal hit the ice and looked to build off of the momentum Gino had generated. Crosby made a sick lead pass into open ice. Staal chased down the puck, but Old MacDonald made the blocker save on a break away chance.
After that penalty kill, the Penguins stole the momentum for the rest of the game.
Late in the period, Brooks Orpik let a shot go that was actually in the vicinity of the net. The puck hit a skate and deflected in past Old MacDonald. The Isles were 3-1 heading into the third.
The third period opened up with Malkin and Crosby once again united on the Penguins' first line—and, boy, did they put on one hell of a show.
Six minutes into the period, Kris Letang made a crisp outlet pass to Crosby at center ice. Sid gained the blue line and dropped the puck off to Malkin, who was trailing the play.
Malkin made a sick move to chip the puck up the boards to himself, got around a defender, and found Crosby on the opposite side of the net. Sid tapped it home to pull the Pens to within one.
Five minutes later, Orpik started another breakout with a great outlet pass. (See the trend of defensemen starting rushes that lead to goals here?)
Sid did his best Gretzky impression and pulled up inside the blue line, hesitated, then found Malkin coming down the middle of the ice.
The Islanders weren't aware that Malkin is the best player in the world and decided to let him skate down the middle of the ice, untouched.
Malkin took the pass from Sid and whipped a quick wrister past MacDonald to tie the game at three.
There was still a ton of time left for either team to pull ahead in this game. Sid and Gino only needed 53 seconds to get that job done.
Crosby came out with a forecheck that should have its own holiday, and forced Andy Sutton to turn the puck over just to the right of the Islanders' net.
Crosby scooped up the loose puck. He got knocked down by Sutton, but managed to slide the puck into the slot. Malkin came flying off of the bench, right at the loose puck, and buried it into the back of the net while falling to the ice. 4-3 Pens, but still lots of time left.
Curry did the job for the next nine minutes, but really wasn't tested all that much by an Islanders team that was just worn out after watching Sid and Gino own them for the last 10 minutes.
Malkin would add an empty netter with 18 seconds on the clock, sealing the deal on the third hat trick of his career.
Elvis got up out of his seat, walked down to the Islanders' bench, told Weight and Guerin to retire, asked Richard Park if he was on the ice after the opening faceoff, then headed for the exit.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has just left the building.
Final Score: Penguins 5, Islanders 3
Malkin and Crosby combined for four goals and three assists. They also laid to rest any debate about which forwards make for the best one-two combination in the league right now.
Malkin was outstanding all game long, but his performance in the second and third period? Wow...just unreal.
If you could take Malkin's performance in those two periods and project it over an entire season, he'd easily have 400 points, 200 hits, and 300 forced turnovers in an 82-game season.
John Curry looked solid enough to get another start this weekend. Look for Therrien to go back to Sabourin on Friday in Buffalo, so as to not shake his confidence, then follow with Curry on Saturday night at home.
Orpik probably has more goals this season than he's had in the rest of his life combined. He's a beast on every shift and was throwing his weight around again tonight.
Nassau Coliseum needs to go. The ice wasn't as bad tonight as it was when the Pens were there earlier in the season, but it still sucked.
Does Brendan Witt still play for the Islanders?
The fight between Godard and Paul Bunyan was solid. Godard is probably the toughest human being that doesn't own a giant axe or ride around on a big blue ox.
Dupuis looked lost playing with Malkin and Sykora tonight.
We've seen it before, but we saw it again tonight. Malkin definitely has that "Mario switch" that he can turn on and off during a game. He flicked it on in the second period tonight and there was no looking back.
The Pens improved to 4-0-2 against Atlantic Division opponents this season.
The Pens continue their road trip in Buffalo on Friday night. Then they host the Devils on Saturday, before hitting the road again for three games next week.
Let's Go Pens!
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