WASHINGTON — After one of his most dominant performances this decade, perhaps Evgeni Malkin thought he didn’t need to say anything, that his art spoke for itself.
He wouldn’t be wrong.
An opening goal. Two primary assists. Four points. A plus-6 in scoring chances at five-on-five. And he backchecked like it was Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff series.
It wasn’t. It was only the second game of his 18th regular season.
GENO MACHINO 🔥 pic.twitter.com/HzwaC4fRHY
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 14, 2023
But there haven’t been many in which Malkin was better than Friday night. He played a role in each of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ goals in a 4-0 thumping of the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena, outshining his longtime frenemy, Alex Ovechkin, and even his historic tag-team partner, Sidney Crosby.
“Obviously, there’s Sid,” Kris Letang said as Malkin conducted a vanishing act in the visitors’ treatment room.
“But he’s just as incredible. Some nights, he’s just so dominant that it’s tough to keep your eyes off him.”
This was no blink-and-miss-it effort from Malkin. He was feeling it from the jump.
Even in the first period, when no goals were scored, Malkin attempted a between-the-legs shot — in hindsight, it was a signal that one of the most overshadowed players in NHL history wasn’t in America’s capital to merely play around.
He was the best player on the ice in a game that featured Crosby’s two goals, Tristan Jarry’s 14th shutout and a tour de force showing from Erik Karlsson.
“When he’s on his game, it seems like the puck follows him around,” coach Mike Sullivan said inside the Penguins’ dressing room a few minutes after joking that he has often experienced what reporters do while waiting on Malkin to speak.
“Welcome to my world,” Sullivan said, smiling.
Indeed, Malkin is as slippery off the ice as he can be gripping on it. The sky might be blue in Malkin’s world, but time doesn’t seem to function like it does for everybody else.
With only 15 minutes before the Penguins needed to catch a bus for their charter flight back to Pittsburgh, Malkin hadn’t even showered.
Whatever. It’s not like the Penguins were going to leave him in The District.
As Rickard Rakell, one of Malkin’s linemates, said about the plan once Malkin made clear he was in a zone: “Just try to give him the puck.”
With all they’ve done, especially against the Capitals, it’s far too easy to take for granted the greatness of Crosby and Malkin, arguably the second-greatest center duo in league history, behind only the Edmonton Oilers’ Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in the 1980s.
So, maybe take a beat and consider that Malkin recorded his 29th regular-season game with at least four points Friday night. Or think about his having recorded at least three assists in a regular-season game for the 38th time.
Most of those types of games occurred during his first 10 seasons. They’ve been and will continue to be rarer.
Malkin is 37, but he looked a decade younger against the Capitals.
He can be funny, charming, gregarious, spirited, playful and any number of things. When he does speak publicly, he often is the Penguins player who speaks truth to power about the way things are with his club and organization.
Yet if Malkin never did another interview (as would probably be his wish) until his eventual induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, he has had one of those careers that will be talked about by fans for generations.
“One of the great ones,” Letang said. “I think he’s shown that his whole career. And again in this game.”
Beating the Capitals 4-0 on the road?
There’s not much better than that.
Post-game thoughts from Coach Sullivan: https://t.co/UTww3bI3H6 pic.twitter.com/0ascetHLrJ
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 14, 2023
1. Though the Penguins’ stars were outstanding against the Capitals, Pittsburgh’s fourth line might have swung momentum Friday night. After spending several shifts in the opening period hemmed in the defensive zone, the fourth line — center Noel Acciari and wingers Matt Nieto and Jeff Carter — tilted the ice to open the second period. From there, the Penguins completely worked over the Capitals.
2. Karlsson’s ability to keep pucks in the zone is otherworldly. That’s not hyperbole. He did it twice Friday night, and it directly resulted in scoring chances the Penguins turned into goals.
“You kind of just have to know what to do before you get there. That’s the main key,” Karlsson said. “Sometimes you look for something. Sometimes nothing’s there — that’s when you get into a pickle.
“You’ve got to just position yourselves sometimes to be able to receive the puck multiple ways. It’s not always going to be tape-to-tape, and you’ve just got to have guys in the right spots. Because if I don’t have anybody to give it to, it doesn’t matter that I keep it in.”
3. Even for the Penguins, whose top-six forwards are among the most skilled in the league, there exists a learning curve to play with a defenseman as gifted offensively as Karlsson. They’re picking it up faster than most would have guessed, and it showed against the Capitals.
4. Jarry likely earned the quietest shutout of his career. He was required to make only 19 saves, but he was perfect on all eight of the high- and mid-danger shots he faced, as charted by Natural Stat Trick. Jarry has had a strong start to the season, somewhat quieting skeptics who doubted he is worth the commitment the Penguins made to him in the offseason.
5. The game was essentially over. There was nothing to be gained. That only made Marcus Pettersson’s willingness to fight Capitals heavyweight Tom Wilson all the more impressive with 25 seconds remaining in regulation. Pettersson is big, but he’s not the modern-day version of Derian Hatcher. The fearlessness shown in taking on a foe such as Wilson is just one of many intangibles that make Pettersson such an invaluable player for the Penguins — not to mention one of the most respected players on the team.
(Photo of Evgeni Malkin scoring in the second period: Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)