While Evgeni Malkin‘s three-goal, five-point night was certainly the most notable performance from Saturday’s 8-3 rout of the Buffalo Sabres, many more Penguins reached milestones in that game.
Accompanying Malkin’s seventh career hat trick (which boosted him into the top five points leaders and second in points-per-game) were goals from Jason Williams, Simon Despres, James Neal, Deryk Engelland and Chris Kunitz.
Both Williams’ and Despres’ goals were the first of their respective Penguins careers, though the players are on opposite ends of the spectrum measuring their NHL careers. Williams is a 10-year veteran, while Despres’ goal was his first in the National Hockey League.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik recorded his 100th NHL point on an assist on Malkin’s first goal, while Carl Sneep had an assist in his first NHL game. Forward Pascal Dupuis notched his 300th point, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury became the fourth-youngest goaltender to win 200 games in the National Hockey League.
The Penguins needed a team effort with centers Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Richard Park and Dustin Jeffrey still sidelined, in addition to top-four defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin.
The Penguins will get Staal back tonight, but rumors have it that Letang is still a ways from returning. One rumor said at this point, Crosby is closer to a return to action than the 24-year-old defenseman.
The Penguins (18-11-4) won’t receive any sympathy tonight, though, as they face the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks (21-8-4) rank second in the NHL in offense (111 goals) and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.
Former partial-season Penguin Marian Hossa leads Chicago with 36 points in 32 games, but the Hawks have three more players who have scored 32 or more points in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp. Toews is quickly becoming one of the best captains in the NHL, and could be in the race for the Hart Trophy as league MVP for years to come.
Ray Emery (9-1-2, 2.50, .909) will start his sixth straight game tonight, while Fleury (16-7-2, 2.31, .914) will mind the net for Pittsburgh.
I don’t see the Penguins being able to shut down Chicago’s prolific offense with all of these injuries. Their best bet tonight will be to rely on Marc-Andre Fleury to play well – as he usually does in big games – and to look for another big night from the group of forwards.
Game time is 7:30 PM and will be televised on Versus.
Let’s Go Pens.