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.