The absence of Sidney Crosby would appear to take a bit of the luster away from a matchup of anticipated Stanley Cup contenders. The Pittsburgh Penguins, though, still have Evgeni Malkin, who has done his best to fill the scoring void left by his superstar teammate.
Malkin will try to continue his red-hot play Tuesday night when the streaking Chicago Blackhawks visit the Consol Energy Center for the first time.
Crosby has missed five consecutive games as he continues to deal with a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms, and his timetable for returning is unknown. After sitting out nearly 11 months following his original injury, the center had 12 points in eight games before complaining of headaches last week.
With his team short-handed, Malkin has taken control with six goals and six assists over the past five contests, although the Penguins (18-11-4) went 1-3-0 over the first four games of that stretch.
Pittsburgh managed to take advantage of one of Malkin’s best performances during an 8-3 rout of visiting Buffalo on Saturday. The center matched a career high for points with his seventh regular-season hat trick and two assists.
“I’m not thinking about my points. I’m trying to find my game,” Malkin said. “I lost a pretty long time (because of) my knee and started a little bit slow and now I feel a little bit better. I’m just finding my way a little and trying to continue to play better every game.”
It might prove a little tougher for Malkin during Tuesday’s visit from the Blackhawks (21-8-4), who have won a season-high five in a row and are 7-0-1 this month.
Chicago’s top scorers Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews have led the way in December, but the Blackhawks have gotten considerable help from goaltender Ray Emery, who has taken over the starting role from Corey Crawford.
Emery has posted a 1.93 goals-against average while starting each game in Chicago’s win streak. He stopped 22 shots Sunday in a 4-2 victory over Calgary to improve to 9-1-2 this season.
Hossa had a goal and an assist in that win, giving him a team-high 12 points over the last seven games, while Patrick Sharp extended his career-best point streak to nine games - the longest in the NHL this season. He has seven goals and six assists during that run.
“We’re building our confidence every game,” Toews said.
It’s unclear if Emery will get a chance to ride his momentum Tuesday, with the Blackhawks scheduled for another game Wednesday against Montreal. He is 8-4-2 with a 2.61 GAA in 14 career games against Pittsburgh, including playoffs.
Crawford earned a 3-2 shootout victory Feb. 20 in his only meeting with the Penguins. Sharp scored the opening goal in that game and Patrick Kane converted the shootout winner as the Blackhawks kicked off a season-best eight-game win streak.
It was the fourth straight meeting that required extra time. The Blackhawks won 2-1 in overtime during their last trip to Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, 2009, at Mellon Arena.
Malkin has not faced Chicago since that game. He has two goals and an assist in three career matchups.
The Blackhawks are hoping to have Brent Seabrook available for their attempt at a sixth straight road win. The defenseman sustained an undisclosed upper-body injury late in the first period Sunday.