PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin stepped into the Pittsburgh Penguins’ practice rink dressing room, spotted a large group of reporters forming a faceoff circle around his seat and quickly scooted into an adjacent off-limits area without taking any questions.
Malkin is successful on a breakaway again. If only he could do it against the Washington Capitals.
In a playoff series that is all Alex Ovechkin and all Sidney Crosby all the time, Malkin — the NHL’s leading scorer — is mostly invisible. No goals, no breakaways and nowhere near the offense he produced while totaling 113 points during the season.
It’s perhaps the key reason why the Penguins have no victories as they return home for a virtual must-win Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday night, down 2-0 to Washington in a series that is fairly even except for one glaring statistic.
Alex Ovechkin, four goals. Sidney Crosby, four goals. Evgeni Malkin, zero goals.
Ovechkin and Crosby, as good as the NHL’s signature stars are, probably can’t maintain their can-you-top-this pace the rest of the series. If the Penguins are to catch the Capitals — and they’ve done it three times before when down two games — they need Malkin to get back to being Malkin.
Quickly, too, because otherwise the Penguins will trail 3-0 in a series for the first time in 30 years, or since Boston swept them in four games in 1979.
“We can’t expect Geno to score every game, it’s really a collective effort,” Crosby said Tuesday, barely 12 hours since Ovechkin scored the go-ahead goal in Washington’s 4-3 victory in Game 2 on a power play created by a Malkin penalty.
“It’s up to us to do our part for sure, but I think he’s working to get chances. The opportunities are there, but it’s the playoffs and it’s tight and there’s going to be times where it’s a little bit difficult.”
Like right now.
Malkin isn’t alone in the failing-to-support-Sid club: Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz have no goals in eight playoff games.
Bill Guerin has scored in only one playoff game. Sergei Gonchar has one goal in 18 games, Petr Sykora one goal in 17.
Still, none of those players means to the Penguins what Malkin does.
“When you start to press for it, that’s when it doesn’t come,” Guerin said.
The Penguins’ Game 3 theme is to keep playing at the same intensity level, constantly pressure rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov and — sigh of envy — don’t get too caught up in what Ovechkin is doing.
Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, who is growing a healthy playoffs beard to match those of his players, knows they can. The Penguins were down 2-0 to Washington in 1992 and 1996 and came back to win each series. They also rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win in 1995.