The NHL’s top scorer looks to re-establish himself after the All-Star break and lead the Penguins to an eighth consecutive win as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
Malkin leads the league with 58 points and is a major reason the Penguins (28-17-4) have won seven in a row while outscoring opponents 28-15. The All-Star center has seven goals and four assists during that streak, but was held off the scoresheet before converting his shootout attempt in a 3-2 win at St. Louis last Tuesday.
Malkin’s stunning play is softening the blow of Crosby’s indefinite absence from concussion-like symptoms. The superstar center returned to practice Monday, but coach Dan Bylsma said he was “nowhere” close to being cleared for contact.
“That’s how seasons go,” left wing Chris Kunitz said. “Everybody goes through injuries, highs and lows. I think it builds character in the locker room.”
Malkin’s production, along with that of linemate James Neal’s, is surely assisting with that.
The left wing, who joined Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang at Sunday’s All-Star game in Ottawa, has six goals and five assists over the last seven games.
The duo have sparked Pittsburgh’s longest winning streak since the team reeled off 12 in a row from Nov. 17-Dec. 11, 2010.
Neal’s 27 goals tie him with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews for second in the league and have matched his career high set with Dallas in 2009-10.
Malkin has eight goals and 29 assists in 17 meetings with Toronto (25-19-5), including five and 15, respectively, in eight home matchups. He had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 road loss Oct. 29.
Neal, on the other hand, has just one assist and a minus-5 rating in his last four games against the Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs are emerging from the break looking to re-establish their momentum as they try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04.
They’re tied with Florida and New Jersey for the final two playoff positions in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m not sure really where I expected to be. I wanted to be in the playoff hunt and we are,” coach Ron Wilson said. “We think we should be in fifth or sixth place and not ninth. We’re going to feel pretty good about ourselves that we can control our own destiny.”
The Leafs have won three of four after sweeping a home-and-home set from the New York Islanders with a 4-3 win on Long Island last Tuesday. Left wing Clarke MacArthur had two goals and one assist, ending a season-high eight-game point drought.
MacArthur has four goals and four assists in his last seven games versus the Penguins, with the Leafs going 4-1-2.
Phil Kessel has also found success against Pittsburgh, getting two goals and five assists in four games, including one of each in the most recent meeting.
The right wing isn’t far behind Neal and Malkin among the NHL’s goals leaders, scoring 26. His 51 points are second on the team to Joffrey Lupul’s 52.
Lupul has four assists in four games, but three came in a win over Minnesota on Jan. 19. The left wing has two goals and one assist in his past three games versus Pittsburgh.