PITTSBURGH — Alex Ovechkin was effusive in his praise of countryman Evgeni Malkin the day before the Washington Capitals visited the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"Malkin right now, I think, dominates," the Capitals' captain said.
True to form, Malkin dominated against the Caps, scoring the Penguins' game-winning goal in overtime and adding a couple of assists to pad his lead (58 points total) as the league's leading scorer. He has seven third-period or overtime goals in his past five games. His 26 goals also slot him at third in the league.
"[He] play great, and I think he control the game so well right now," Ovechkin said Sunday afternoon. "He knows without [Sidney] Crosby, this team is good but it's not that good. And he handle it pretty well."
The Penguins might be pretty good anyway, having now won six in a row. But so much of it has to do with Malkin's excellence, which was on display in the 4-3 defeat of the Caps.
In the third period, Malkin carved through the defense and opened up plenty of room for James Neal to score his second of the day and 26th of the season. In overtime, he took a puck that rebounded off the boards and ended the game by beating a hard-sliding Michal Neuvirth.
Painful lesson: Don't give Malkin room to do anything.
"He's obviously got all the tools, all the skills. He can skate. He uses his linemates real well," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "He dishes and then jumps into openings. He's tough to play against. He's a big, strong guy. But we let him get in behind us there and kind of get lost on the overtime winner there. He's not going to miss that one."
On the winner 1:31 into the extra frame, the puck did take a fortuitous Penguins' bounce right onto Malkin's stick, but it took what Caps coach Dale Hunter called "quick hands — real quick" to snap it into the net.
"He's elite player and to find that puck coming off the back boards and he's so quick to get it in," Hunter said. "Neuvy was coming hard and he would've been there. Most guys would've took another second and he would've had it."
It was Malkin's NHL-best seventh game-winning goal. And though Penguins coach Dan Bylsma admitted some of those are the second in 5-1 wins, he knows how crucial the center's clutch offense has been lately.
"Those are big goals from a big player," Bylsma said. "Right now, we're getting those goals from Geno and that's a huge thing for our team right now."
The thing is, Malkin needs to be good given that the Penguins are missing not only Crosby (post-concussion symptoms) but Jordan Staal (knee). The Russian center has 13 points (nine goals, four assists) in his past six games.
"It's everything goes well for him right now. For Pittsburgh, it's very good sign," Ovechkin said. "Right now, Malkin take all the attention and all the pressure."
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