Not much to say about this game — Atlanta did come in riding a 6-game winning streak, but they’re still one of the worst teams in the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t play, the team played back-to-back games and the Pens didn’t, and Johan Hedberg got the start in net and looked basically helpless throughout the night. The Pens got their nightly uniquely-spastic D-zone screwup out of the way in the first minute, and despite a couple amazing scoring chances in the mid-First that miraculously didn’t go in, as well as another goal deflecting in off a Penguin defenseman (off Mark Eaton’s face this time – they’re getting more creative), the outcome of this game was never in doubt once the Pens went up 2-1.
Evgeni Malkin seized the stat-padding opportunity and notched two goals and three assists, giving him a 10-point lead over Crosby and a 12-point lead over Ovechkin in the scoring race. Given the Pens’ resurgence, Crosby’s brief absence, Washington’s weak division, and the NHL writers’ collective short memories and willingness to switch things up year-to-year, Malkin has to be the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy. Did I mention he also deserves it? I know that’s not one of the requirements to win the Hart, but it’s a nice touch.
Sergei Gonchar now has 6 goals in 15 games this season; Ryan Whitney has 2 in 35. And Chris Kunitz now has 6 goals and 6 assists in 10 games with the Penguins. At this point, Eric Tangradi would have to murder Crosby for me to regret that Anaheim trade.
Also, I’m really getting tired of looking at the standings after a Penguin win and going “All right, we’re in fourth place – oh wait, every other team has 37 games in hand. I forgot the Penguins played 20 games against the Western Conference in August back when the rest of the East was still off.”