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Malkin's 4 points lead Pens to rout of Panthers

The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had one goal and three assists Saturday night.

The scary part for Penguins' opponents? The star center does not feel he is playing his best.

"Sometimes I have the puck, and I need to shoot," Malkin said after his Penguins routed the Florida Panthers 5-1 Saturday night at the BB&T Center. "It's a big mistake for me. Sometimes I'm in position to shoot, and I pass."

Malkin's unselfish play doesn't seem to be holding him back. In his past eight games, he has four goals and 13 assists.

And on a night in which the other Penguins superstar -- center Sidney Crosby -- was kept off the scoresheet -- Malkin improved his season total to 35 points. That's one behind the NHL leader -- Crosby.

Asked if he wanted to catch Crosby, Malkin said all the right things.

"It's a good battle -- a friendly battle," Malkin said. "I'm not thinking about it because it's a long season. It doesn't matter who wins."

The real winners, of course, are the Penguins, who have both Malkin and Crosby and lead the Metropolitan Division by seven points over the Washington Capitals.

Pittsburgh won three straight games and also avenged a surprising 6-3 loss to Florida on Oct. 11 -- the Panthers' home opener.

Florida, in next-to-last place in the entire Eastern Conference, lost two straight and four of its past five games.

The Panthers outshot the Penguins 40-22 but were not as opportunistic.

Penguins Rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff had something to do with that. He made 29 saves and improved his record to 4-2 as the Penguins were able to rest starter Marc-Andre Fleury and still win.

It was sweet revenge for Zatkoff, who started when Florida beat the Penguins in the aforementioned game.

"You always want to play, especially against a team that put up six on you," Zatkoff said. "I know I wasn't at my best last time."

Goaltender Tim Thomas, who made his 11th straight start for Florida, was replaced after two periods by backup goalie Scott Clemmensen.

Pittsburgh got two goals in the first period. After Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was whistled for tripping, Pittsburgh needed just 34 seconds to convert that mistake into a power-play goal.

Left winger Chris Kunitz mostly fanned on a shot but got enough of the puck to have it slowly trickle past Thomas for a 1-0 lead. It was Kunitz's 14th goal of the season.

Thirty-one seconds later, Penguins center Joe Vitale scored his first goal of the season on a bad-angle shot that was shoved just a couple of inches past the goal line. The goal stood after a video review.

Pittsburgh increased its lead to 3-0 on a more traditional goal as rookie defenseman Olli Maatta rushed up ice on the left wing before passing in tight quarters to Malkin, who made a nifty move -- backhand to forehand -- and scored his seventh goal of the season.

In the second period, the Panthers finally converted on their fourth power-play chance of the game. After Kunitz was sent off for hooking, center Jonathan Huberdeau raced up the ice and dished to right winger Scottie Upshall, who shifted to his backhand and beat Zatkoff on the near side to make it 3-1.

It was Upshall's sixth goal of the season and his ninth point in the past 11 games.

"There have been a lot of opportunities for guys like me to step up, play more minutes and play with better players," Upshall said. "Unfortunately, while things are going well for me personally, it's tough when you give up goals and have to come back."

But Pittsburgh made it 4-1 just 29 seconds later when Malkin made a clever pass from behind the net to left winger James Neal, who did not miss for his eighth goal of the season.

Malkin helped make it 5-1 with 13:50 left in the game, stealing a pass and setting up winger Jussi Jokinen, who beat Clemmensen high to the glove side. It was Jokinen's ninth goal of the season.

"They have world-class guys over there," Upshall said of the Penguins. "They have five or six guys who probably get 30 to 40 goals every year. We have to play hard and bury our chances. It's kind of the only way things will fall our way."

NOTES: Panthers C Jesse Winchester (bruised hip) returned to the lineup after missing three games. ... Panthers D Matt Gilroy (lower-body injury) and LW Tomas Kopecky (upper-body injury) sat out. ... Panthers D Mike Mottau and RW Krys Barch were healthy scratches. ... Several Penguins are on injured reserve: G Tomas Vokoun (blood clots), D Paul Martin (leg), D Rob Scuderi (ankle), LW Tanner Glass (hand) and LW Beau Bennett (upper body). ... The Penguins' healthy scratches were C Zach Sill and D Robert Bortuzzo. ... Panthers G Tim Thomas is one of six goalies in the running to make the USA Olympic team. The others are Ryan Miller of Buffalo, Cory Schneider of New Jersey, Ben Bishop of Tampa Bay, Jimmy Howard of Detroit and Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles. The roster will be announced Jan. 1. ... Up next for the Penguins is Tuesday's game at the New York Islanders. ... Next up for Florida is Tuesday's home game against Ottawa.
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