Penguins Room: Malkin’s an ‘Emotional Guy;’ Glove at First Sight
Evgeni Malkin assisted on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first two goals — both by Rickard Rakell — in their 4-2 victory against Philadelphia Sunday at PPG Paints Arena.
Those weren’t the only times he showed up on the scoresheet, however.
Fact is, Malkin made regular appearances there throughout the game, even though he didn’t record another point.
He was assessed no fewer than four minor penalties — including a natural hat trick of them during the second period — and picked up a game misconduct to accompany the final one.
While there was some initial confusion about the precise nature of his misconduct — Malkin went directly to the locker room, even though official league paperwork mistakenly presented it as a 10-minute misconduct — coach Mike Sullivan said Malkin was assessed an unsportsmanlike minor and game misconduct when he protested after referees Dan O’Rourke and Chris Schlenker allowed an infraction against Malkin to go uncalled.
“He got high-sticked, and they didn’t see it,” Sullivan said. “My sense is that he was upset because he got three (earlier) minor penalties, one of which was a high stick, and then when he gets high-sticked, they didn’t see it.
“He’s obviously an emotional guy. His emotions got the best of him in that circumstance. (Malkin) and I will have a conversation about that. He’s got to do a better job of controlling his emotions, because we need him. But he’s an emotional guy, and the stakes are high right now.”
Despite playing the final 18-plus minutes without Malkin, the Penguins held on to defeat the Flyers, move back into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and climb within one point of the New York Islanders, who hold the first wild card but were 2-1 losers at Carolina.
“It’s human nature to watch the scoreboard,” Sullivan said. “We’re all well aware of who’s winning and who’s losing and where we stand. … The most important thing is that we come to the rink to play and we don’t get distracted by that stuff.”
Casey DeSmith stopped 31 of the Flyers’ 33 shots, and more than a few of those saves were outstanding.
“He made some huge saves,” Sullivan said.
The most memorable might have come at 16:55 of the first period, when he gloved a shot by Flyers forward Travis Konecny from the right side.
DeSmith’s glove was near the right post when he caught the puck, and it took a video review to verify that it did not cross the goal line after he grabbed it.
Even DeSmith wasn’t entirely convinced that he had managed to keep it out of the net.
“I was, like, 70-30 that it was a save,” he said. “I wasn’t quite sure. Those are always tough, when the glove is partly in the net.”
DeSmith watched as his Philadelphia counterpart, Samuel Ersson, was victimized by some seriously bad luck on the Penguns’ first goal, as a Rakell shot sailed over the net, only to strike the glass, then bounce off Ersson’s back and drop into the net.
“That was a pretty wild one,” DeSmith said. “It’s never happened to me, knock on wood, but we’ll take it. We’ll take any goals we can get at this point.”
Before the game, the Pittsburgh Penguins honored Kris Letang, who appeared in his 1,000th NHL game.
“It was a special night,” Letang said. “A lot of emotion, but you have to refocus and say the two points are more important right now. It was cool to get the win.”
Letang’s son, Alex, accompanied him on the ice before the game, read the Penguins’ starting lineup over the public-address system and stood next to Letang during the national anthem.
“It was pretty emotional, having my son on the ice with me,” Letang said. “That made it perfect.”
Rickard Rakell is an accomplished goal-scorer — he has 27 of them this season — but the one he scored at 11:40 of the opening period to put the Penguins in front to stay was unlike many, if any, he’s gotten to this point of his career.
That was the one that flew way over the net, but ended up in it after caroming off the glass and Ersson’s back.
“I shot it, like, three feet over the net,” Rakell said. “I was just as surprised to see it go in. I’ll take it.”
With six games remaining, he has a realistic shot at a 30-goal season, which would be his third in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him from Anaheim at the trade deadline in 2022, and he has fit in nicely since joining them.
“I’m really comfortable,” Rakell said. “I’m excited to have a chance to play with all these great players … I want to do my part to help our team. I don’t care about the numbers, but every game, I want to score.”