Not only did Crosby rack up two goals for the first time since Dec. 14, he also displayed his trademark burst through the neutral zone, a sign that his legs are feeling fresh for the final weeks of the regular season.
Crosby himself admitted that Monday’s break from practice helped restore his body, but it stands to reason that with 10 games separating him from his gold-medal push in Sochi, Captain Canada has had enough time to calibrate his sights on the Stanley Cup.
No. 87’s three-point outburst Tuesday night boosted his post-Olympic totals to five goals and eight assists, so it’s not like he’s been slacking in the production department in March. Neither has fellow pivot Evgeni Malkin, who has chipped in eight points since his Sochi disappointment.
However, while eight points in 10 games isn’t exactly a slump, Malkin’s goal total has stagnated lately, with only one red light in the past 10 games. The 27-year-old is on pace for 24 goals, which would be his lowest total in a season during which he’s played more than 43 games.
Zeroing in on the post-Sochi portion of the schedule, Malkin is averaging 2.9 shots per game. His rate of one goal in 29 shots over that span translates to an absurdly-low 3.4 shooting percentage. This follows a 17.6 percent success rate (nine goals on 51 shots) in 15 January and February games.
Judging by those numbers alone, Malkin is due for at least a mild goal-scoring breakout. The eighth-year pro has a career shooting percentage of 12.7 percent, although it’s down to 10.3 since his 50-goal output in 2011-12. Nonetheless, much of his recent drought is due to bad luck.
Glancing at the puck possession stats, Malkin has boasted an even or plus Corsi rating in nine of his past 10 games, with the loss in San Jose serving as the only exception. Nine times since the Olympics, the Penguins have generated more shot attempts with Malkin on the ice than off.
With James Neal back healthy and on Malkin’s right wing, No. 71 should continue to create opportunities. Pretty soon, the pucks will start to go in again.
Tonight’s Game: Penguins (45-17-4, 94 points – 1st Metropolitan) vs. Red Wings (31-24-13, 75 points – 5th Atlantic) at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh
Radio: 105.9 The X
For the sixth straight game, the Penguins will face a team in the midst of a playoff race. The Red Wings have made the postseason 22 consecutive times, but they’re one point behind Columbus for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit is the rare team that can almost match Pittsburgh’s league-leading total of 419 man-games lost this season; the Wings have 323, with most of their current injuries affecting their forward depth. Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Jimmy Howard is the projected goaltending matchup.
Give it a listen!