Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup after a five-game absence in the Penguins 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Monday night. However, it did not take long for Malkin to create controversy.
Late in the third period, Malkin was assessed a match penalty for high sticking after he one-handedly swung his stick at Philadelphia forward Michael Raffl. The Penguins led 3-0 with five minutes remaining and Malkin did not appreciate some of the tactics Raffl used to guard him. Or annoy him.
“We had a battle. I think he played dirty. He smacked me behind my head,” said Malkin. “I didn’t try to hit his face and I know I wasn’t playing smart.”
Malkin wasn’t wrong on any of the above. He did receive a few punches to the back of the head and Malkin wasn’t playing smart.
However, according to a tweet from the NHL Department of Player Safety, Malkin will have a hearing Tuesday. Such things are rarely good for the player and a suspension now appears likely.
“I know it’s dirty but my stick missed his helmet and shoulder,” Malkin continued. “He dove and the referee gave me five minutes. It wasn’t dangerous. He wasn’t bleeding.”
Malkin had a first period assist when he set up new linemate Nick Bjugstad for what became the game-winning goal. However, Malkin put that winner in jeopardy with the stick swing. Philadelphia scored once on the major penalty but the Penguins added an empty net goal to seal the deal.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan seemed to concur with part of Malkin’s assessment, too.
“On Geno’s part, it was reactionary. He was getting punched in the back of the head. It was a battle between the two of them and I think it was reactionary,” said Sullivan. “I was a little surprised it was a match (penalty) because the player didn’t get hurt on it and there wasn’t real significant contact.”
Malkin was injured on Jan. 30 against Tampa Bay when he was hit by Dan Girardi. However, Malkin didn’t help matters with a third period fight against Steve Stamkos, as the pair landed on Malkin’s injured hand. Malkin missed the Penguins previous five games
“It felt pretty normal. Pretty good. You’re always a little bit nervous when you come back,” Malkin said.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now will continue to update the story as it unfolds over the next 24 hours.