The Pittsburgh Penguins have shown they are quite capable of scoring goals without Evgeni Malkin, but they were more than happy to have him contribute in his return.
Malkin and the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins open a three-game swing through Western Canada on Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks, who are turning to rookie goaltender Eddie Lack for consecutive games against the NHL's top two teams.
This game also features Penguins coach Dan Bylsma looking to move ahead of Eddie Johnston atop the team's all-time wins list with 233.
Malkin, one of the most dynamic players in the league and likely for the host Russian Olympic team next month, returned to Pittsburgh's lineup Sunday after missing nine games with a leg injury. He showed little rust with two goals and an assist as the Penguins (31-12-1) rallied for a 6-5 victory over Winnipeg - their 12th straight win at home and 15th in 18 overall.
"I missed a lot of games and I'm excited to come back and just have fun," Malkin told the team's official website. "Thanks to my linemates, they did a great job. We were in the offensive zone. It was a good game for us."
Pittsburgh had another big night offensively after scoring 30 goals in the nine games Malkin missed. He was on the second line with James Neal and Jussi Jokinen, and the trio combined for five goals and three assists.
It was the second straight multipoint game for Jokinen, who was clearly excited to have the former MVP back on his wing.
"I'm not surprised he came back like that," Jokinen said of Malkin, third on the team with 44 points despite missing 11 games. "He's a guy who works really hard off the ice and takes care of his conditioning and obviously that skill doesn't go anywhere when you're off."
Malkin had an assist and the winning shootout goal in a 4-3 victory over the Canucks on Oct. 19. He has a goal and three assists in six lifetime games versus Vancouver while also converting 2 of 3 shootout attempts - all against Roberto Luongo.
Luongo, though, likely will not play after suffering an ankle injury in a 46-save effort while losing 3-1 at Los Angeles on Saturday night. Lack turned in one of the best performances of his young career the next night at West-leading Anaheim with a season-high 45 stops, but the Canucks (23-13-8) lost 4-3 after the Swede allowed the game-tying goal with 1:27 left in regulation and an overtime tally with 1.3 seconds to go.
"It's up to me and the team to turn this around and shut the door on those last important minutes," Lack said after Vancouver's winless skid reached four games (0-2-2). "You can always find ways to win the game, we were a minute and a half away today and I really thought we should have won it."
Coach John Tortorella, though, was pleased with Lack's effort and pointed out his team has to raise its play in order to compete with - and beat - the league's elite.
"We have lost ourselves a little bit. We're a little bit beat up, we're playing against a different level of team, especially the past couple of nights," Tortorella said. "But we have some work to do, not just our defensemen but within our team defense. We're just not holding on to pucks offensively and establishing ourselves with our forecheck and we're spending a lot of time in our zone."
Daniel Sedin, who assisted on all three goals Sunday, had eight points in his previous four games versus Pittsburgh before being held scoreless in October.