Penguins’ Malkin looks to stay hot vs. Maple Leafs

For years, Evgeni Malkin has been the other Pittsburgh Penguins star center, often even when he and uber popular teammate Sidney Crosby are both playing lights-out.

Malkin is difficult to ignore lately. Going into Saturday’s against the Toronto Maple Leafs at PPG Paints Arena, Malkin has six goals, 11 points over his past six games and, overall, ranked second in the NHL going into Friday’s games with 20 points in 11 games.

Centering Pittsburgh’s only line that has stuck together, with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, Malkin has been a force.

“It’s not me. It’s the whole line. It’s the whole team,” Malkin, the league’s No. 2 star of the month for October, insisted. “I had a great summer. I worked with Alex (Trinca, the Penguins’), conditioning coach. We worked hard all summer. And a little bit of rest. We had some months (off) this year. I play with Phil and (Hagelin). They’re great guys, great players.

“I just do my job. I try to do my best. I feel good, fresh. My legs are moving, and I just stay at the same level.”

Crosby has still been a worthy bookend. After going the first six games without a goal, he has six goals and 14 points for Pittsburgh (6-2-3) going into the game against Toronto (8-5-0).

The Maple Leafs had a one-two offensive punch with homegrown young star Auston Matthews and veteran John Tavares, formerly with the Islanders, but Matthews last week sustained a shoulder injury that is expected to sideline him for another three weeks or so.

Matthews has a team-best 10 goals and is tied for the Maple Leafs’ lead with 16 points. The team is 0-2 with a total of two goals without Matthews.

“What I find with most injuries is it takes your team a little bit to figure out how we’re going to go again,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “It takes the coach a little bit to figure (it) out. To have success, you’ve got to trust all your guys. Even though your depth gets hurt a little bit, you’ve got to play with depth.

“We’ve got to find ways to win games. Just stay with the process and keep doing good things, and good things will happen to you. Let’s get to work. We play a good Pittsburgh team we’re excited to play.”

Tavares has seven goals and 14 points, but has just one point, an assist, since Matthews got hurt.

“I know I’m counted on to produce. It’s part of the game and supposed to be one of my strengths,” Tavares said. “I wouldn’t say I put any more pressure myself on than I do normally to play at a high level and play at it consistently.”

The Penguins beat the Maple Leafs 3-0 in Toronto Oct. 18, a game that launched a 4-0 road trip through Canada. Since then, Pittsburgh went 0-1-1 in a home-and-home series against the New York Islanders.

“We think everybody’s contributing at this point,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We just have to get better with each game.”