Malik has quickly become a fan favorite at Madison Square
Garden, and not just when he and the Rangers are on the ice. The
defenseman scored his first goal in regulation and fellow
defenseman Maxim Kondratiev netted his first in the NHL to lead New
York to its sixth straight victory, 2-1 over the Pittsburgh
Penguins on Thursday night.
Last Saturday night, Malik ended the longest shootout in NHL
history in the 15th round against Washington with a sparkling
between the legs move. That winning shot was replayed on the center
ice screen early in the game Thursday, one night after it was shown
during the New York Knicks' NBA game while Malik sat courtside.
"I'm scared to turn on the TV now. You can't hide from him,"
said Czech countryman Jagr, who has 21 goals and assisted on
Kondratiev's score. "I can't go to the bar without people showing
it. I can't even go to the Giants game because I think he is going
to be there again. It's just unbelievable."
New York is on its longest winning streak since a six-game run
from Nov. 3-14, 2001. The Rangers are 11-3 in their last 14 games
while the slumping Penguins (7-13-6) dropped their fourth straight,
including three road contests.
Malik's latest goal, the 28th in 11 seasons which gave the
Rangers a 2-1 lead at 6:31 of the second period, was much more
conventional than his shootout theatrics.
"It's about time," Malik said. "I'm really happy I scored,
especially the game-winning goal."
After a faceoff win by Michael Nylander, defenseman Michal
Rozsival slid the puck from right to left inside the blue line.
Malik wound up for a shot from above the left circle and beat
Marc-Andre Fleury high with his first regulation goal in 40 games,
dating to March 3, 2004.
"He's on fire right now," said winning goalie Henrik
Lundqvist, a fan favorite himself as he improved to 7-1-1 at home.
"I think he was the best player on the ice."
Fleury didn't have much chance to stop the drive from Malik, who
had time to set up his shot.
"He could do whatever he wanted," Fleury said. "I don't think
he can do that too many times in a row."
Kondratiev made it 1-0 at 7:52 of the first period with New
York's first power-play goal in four games -- their longest drought
of this surprisingly good season that has the Rangers atop the
Atlantic Division (17-7-3). They had failed on 18 straight man
advantages before Kondratiev got a shot through traffic from the
left point with one second remaining on Dick Tarnstrom's 4-minute
penalty for high-sticking.
Lundqvist, filling in for injured regular Kevin Weekes, made 35
saves to earn his 10th victory (10-3-2).
"He made the difference," 18-year-old Penguins forward Sidney
Crosby said. "We have to find ways to score but give him credit."
Penguins rookie defenseman Ryan Whitney tied it at 1 with his
first NHL goal, scored 1:54 into the second period after sustained
Pittsburgh pressure in the New York zone.
The Rangers lineup was fortified by the return of forwards
Martin Rucinsky and Steve Rucchin. Rucinsky, who had six goals in
his first 12 games, sat out 14 with a knee sprain but New York went
10-4 in his absence. Rucchin missed two games due to a sore back.
Fleury, recalled Monday from the AHL, lost 3-2 to Buffalo on
Tuesday after allowing what coach Eddie Olczyk a "soft goal" in
the third period. He made 30 saves but fell to 1-3-1.
Fellow rookie Crosby was held pointless for a season-high third
straight game and for only the eighth time in 26 contests.
"You go through phases sometimes," Crosby said. "We played
pretty decent hockey. "If we get the same chances next game, we'll
look to put them in."
The Rangers were without D Tom Poti (groin) and RW Jed
Ortmeyer, who was attending his grandmother's funeral. ... Penguins
captain Mario Lemieux was scoreless for the fourth straight game
and fifth time in six contests. He sat out two other games during
that stretch with a stomach virus. ... Pittsburgh is 2-12-5 when
allowing the first goal. ... It was only the sixth time the
Penguins have held a shots advantage (2-3-1). ... Penguins RW Ziggy
Palffy injured his groin in the second period and didn't return. He
will be re-evaluated on Friday.