Yohe’s 10 observations: Evgeni Malkin delivers in dramatic fashion against the Flames


Mr. 101 made Game No. 1,001 of his career a special one.

Evgeni Malkin, even as all-time greats go, typically inspires considerable emotion. From fans. From teammates. From opponents. Sometimes, from himself.

It was only fitting that his night at PPG Paints Arena finished precisely as it did Wednesday.

Playing before a raucous crowd, Malkin, who was honored for playing in his 1000th game in a pregame ceremony, brought down the house when he gave the Penguins a 2-1 win in a shootout against the Calgary Flames.

“That,” Sidney Crosby said, smiling, “was perfect.”

After Malkin scored the shootout winner, he flipped his stick into the crowd before being mobbed by his teammates.

“You wouldn’t want anyone else with the opportunity to win the game,” Crosby said. “The whole night was awesome. The whole day. The last few (days), to be honest. Happy to see him roof it and get the winner.”

The victory is the fourth straight for the surging Penguins, who next play in a Black Friday showdown in Philadelphia.

Jan Rutta also scored for the Penguins, who controlled play for most of the evening despite requiring additional time against a Flames team that beat them thoroughly in Calgary a month ago.

Tristan Jarry got the win, giving him 100 in his young NHL career. He stopped 33 of 34 shots.

The game would have been long over if not for the performance of Calgary’s backup goalie, Dan Vladar, who stood on his head much of the evening, thwarting more than a dozen quality looks from the Penguins.

“He was really, really good,” Crosby said.

And yet the night belonged to Malkin. He was joined by his wife, Anna, and his son, Nikita, in a pregame ceremony. A video tribute from the Penguins nearly brought Malkin to tears.

“It was an amazing night for me, for my family,” Malkin said.

The video tributes poured in from around the hockey world. Malkin’s close friend Sergei Gonchar was on hand for the evening. Even one of his biggest rivals, countryman Alex Ovechkin, sent a video to Malkin.

And before the night concluded, Malkin left Pittsburgh with yet another special memory.

“The stage isn’t too big for him,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He plays his best when the stakes are high. He’s a generational talent. He’s ultra-competitive. It couldn’t have been a more fitting ending for his 1,000th-game celebration that he gets the shootout goal to win the game.”

Ten postgame observations

• We’ll get back to Malkin in a moment.

But first, some stick taps are due to the crowd that filled PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday. I’ve covered almost every game played in that building, and it was the best regular-season crowd I’ve ever heard at the Penguins’ 11-year-old facility. And it wasn’t close.

After the game, Crosby went out of his way to mention how spectacular the crowd was.

Why? I offer you three theories.

First, it was the annual Thanksgiving eve game in Pittsburgh, which usually produces a good crowd.

Second, it was Malkin’s night. The Penguins fan base has always reacted in a pretty visceral way to Malkin. Crosby is Crosby, which is to say he is hockey royalty and treated as such. But Malkin brings out a hardcore emotion in the fan base that is his and his alone. He was assessed a penalty in the third period that could have cost the Penguins the game. This brought out a fit of anger in the crowd that isn’t typical of Penguins home games. It was a truly spectacular crowd, very much on par with a playoff game.

Third, here’s a thought: The Penguins aren’t rolling in sellouts the way they once were. It happens. The economy isn’t great. Money is tight for a lot of people. Downtown construction is a circus. As a result, tickets on the secondary market are extremely inexpensive. Maybe some of the real fans can actually afford to go. It’s been an obnoxiously corporate crowd for a long time in that building. That sure wasn’t the case Wednesday.

Whatever the case may be, it was a special crowd. If you were there, you know.

• Good for Malkin.

He’s been through a great deal in the past year. We can’t imagine what it’s like to be a hockey player from Russia and the pressure that is associated with it. I’m sure there is plenty he’d like to say, only he feels like he can’t. I don’t know what it’s like to be under that kind of microscope. Neither do you.

Also, I think there was a real fear from Malkin that things weren’t going to work out with the Penguins over the summer. He had never been an unrestricted free agent. I don’t believe it was an enjoyable experience for him.

Malkin never wanted to leave Pittsburgh, and it’s largely because of nights like this. The Penguins have been the best show in hockey for going on two decades. He has played a leading role. And he’ll remember Wednesday night for a long time.

• The Penguins do these ceremonies properly.

Also, it’s striking seeing ceremonies that involve Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang. We didn’t know if they’d still be together after last season. That these three guys are still playing at a high level and still wearing the same sweater after all these years is a pretty incredible thing.

Rest assured, they are the best of friends, and it was pretty clear that Crosby and Letang enjoyed Wednesday night as much as Malkin did. They were so, so happy for him.

Because of Malkin’s shyness and the language barrier, it could be said that we don’t know him in the same way we know Crosby and Letang. I have always been struck, however, by how much Malkin’s teammates love him. Malkin shows only glimpses of his legendary personality when the cameras are on. His teammates see it daily and clearly think the world of him. It has always been this way.

• There was no way Malkin wasn’t scoring in the shootout. The whole building knew.

Incidentally, Malkin played a strong game. His line, along with Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust, was buzzing much of the night in Calgary territory.

Malkin is still a points-per-game player, and if the Penguins’ borderline dysfunctional power play could figure itself out, those point totals would balloon.

Malkin remains an elite player.

• What a nice addition Rutta has been.

He’s certainly more known for his defense, and for the most part, his defensive work has been outstanding.

Rutta did, however, add his third goal of the young season when the Penguins came out flying early in the first period and took an immediate lead.

• Speaking of nice additions, how about Josh Archibald?

The Penguins’ fourth line has been good in recent games and was effective against the Flames. Archibald drew two penalties Wednesday and was hitting everything that moved all night.

He finished with four hits and was on the ice for Rutta’s goal.

The Penguins aren’t a particularly abrasive team. They need someone to stir the pot and play like a jerk on occasion, you know? Archibald has been that guy. He’s been defensively responsible and has scored three goals. So long as he’s drawing more penalties than he’s taking, and that’s been the case lately, he can be a very useful player.

• One negative, if I may.

The Penguins were dominant for most of the night but struggled in the second period. Calgary’s size was a problem during that period.

This was especially visible when P-O Joseph was on the ice. Joseph has been solid for the Penguins, but the Flames owned him in that period. He’s going to struggle against big, physical teams.

This is something to monitor.

• As we all know, Letang has been struggling mightily.

Wednesday was a big step in the right direction for him. He was good. He simplified his game. He eliminated most of the head-scratching mistakes.

Perhaps Letang hit rock bottom in Chicago. He was simply horrendous in that game.

This was a nice bounce-back.

• Up next? It’s central casting.

The Penguins and Flyers have a special kind of hatred for each other. And now we add John Tortorella into the mix. I’d suggest wrapping up your Black Friday shopping by 5:30 p.m. for Friday’s puck drop.

• Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be safe out there and enjoy the holiday.

(Photo of Evgeni Malkin, center, Teddy Blueger, right, and Danton Heinen: Justin Berl / Getty Images)


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