Evgeni Malkin missed the entire preseason, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting off to the best start of his career and being the top contributor on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ league-best power-play unit.
He’ll look to help Pittsburgh earn a fourth straight victory as it hosts the struggling Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
Malkin began practicing just two days before the Penguins’ season opener as he recovered from an undisclosed injury, and said it took time to get back into game shape.
The results have shown otherwise, though, as the former MVP and two-time Art Ross Trophy winner has four goals – all on the power play – and eight assists while earning a point in all nine games for Pittsburgh (6-2-1).
Malkin’s eight power-play points are among the most in the league for a Penguins team that leads the NHL by a wide margin. Pittsburgh has converted 39.5 percent of its opportunities with the man advantage, and it’s gone 7 for 16 during the winning streak.
"I just do my job," Malkin said. "We have a great line with (Pascal Dupuis) and (Blake) Comeau. We try to use each other. A good power play, too. Most (of my) points are on the power play, but still a couple chances 5 on 5."
Rookie coach Mike Johnston has been impressed with Malkin’s level of play after working his way back from the injury.
"I think Geno’s overall game, you can just see it getting better and better," Johnston said. "He’s picking up the puck with more speed, he’s carrying it, he’s making better plays. So I think his play over the course of the next couple weeks will be where he wanted it to be if he had a preseason."
Malkin assisted on Chris Kunitz’s power-play goal in the first period of Thursday’s 3-0 win over Los Angeles. Kunitz had an assist on Kris Letang’s goal then scored again in the third for Pittsburgh, which has outscored opponents 14-3 during the three straight wins.
The Penguins held a 12-2 goal advantage over the Sabres while winning all three meetings last season, and Buffalo may not be any more competitive in this matchup.
The Sabres (2-8-1) have scored 12 non-shootout goals while allowing 36, which rank among the most in the league. They failed to convert on their first 33 power-play chances before Drew Stafford converted in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Boston.
”It’s just embarrassing, unacceptable to go 0-for this long," forward Chris Stewart said. "We’ve been trying different combinations and for it to finally click, it feels pretty good. Hopefully we can keep it going."
Tyler Ennis had a goal and an assist for Buffalo, which was outshot 37-15. It has totaled 40 shots on net the last three games and ranks last in the league with 21.2 per contest, while facing a league high 36.7.
"We still need to address the shots," Ennis said. "We’ve got to find a way to put those through. But we’ve got to stay positive. We’ve got to go into Pittsburgh and play a full 60 (minutes), not just 40."
Jhonas Enroth made 34 saves Thursday and will be in net for this contest. He’s 1-3-0 with a 2.58 goals-against average in his career against Pittsburgh, which likely will go with Marc-Andre Fleury as he comes off his 30th career shutout and second in three games.
Fleury had a 0.67 GAA in last season’s series sweep of the Sabres.