Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin was superb in his return to competition after six-and-a-half months away. The Los Angeles Kings will find out how well the 35-year-old can bounce back.
The Kings are scheduled to host Pittsburgh on Thursday night in and they’ll need to find an answer for Malkin, who had two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win at the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, his first game since undergoing knee surgery in June.
“It was a long process for me. This was the longest break in my life,” Malkin said. “I feel so at ease right now.”
Malkin is a seven-time All Star and three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins. His value to the team goes beyond goals and assists, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
“He makes us so much harder to play against,” Sullivan said. “He’s such a threat offensively, he commands the puck every time he’s on the ice.”
The Kings are feeling confident after knocking off the visiting New York Rangers 3-1 on Monday for their fourth win in the past five games.
“When we’re playing well and we’re playing fast, we connect the dots,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “When we’re not, it’s ragged and we chase pucks all over the place.”
One of the most dependable players for Los Angeles of late has been fourth-year forward Trevor Moore.
The undrafted 26-year-old from nearby Thousand Oaks, Calif., has two goals and five assists in four games this month. He set career highs last season with 10 goals and 13 assists while playing all 56 games.
“We have some responsibility for his lack of production, the coaching staff, because we played him everywhere,” McLellan said. “He was a center, he was a left wing, he was a right wing, he was on the top line, he was on the fourth line.”
Moore has found a landing spot on a line with veteran Phillip Danault, who has collected three goals and two assists in the past four games.
“Finding a home on a line has been good for (Moore),” McLellan said. “Jumping around all over the place is never good for anybody, but he was the one guy we trusted to do that.”
In the past month, the Kings have gone toe-to-toe with the Eastern Conference, posting a 5-1-1 mark against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings and the New York Rangers.
“We have a chance, and the guys are believing that now,” McLellan said. “It doesn’t guarantee us a win, but it gives us a better chance.”
The Kings might be up against their toughest test over the past month, however. The Penguins not only have Malkin back, but they’ve won 11 of their past 12.
“Wins are just as important now as they are at the end of the year,” Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry said. “The team’s done a great job, we’ve brought a lot of energy, we’ve brought a solid game, and I think that’s what’s helped us have success.”
–Field Level Media