PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Pittsburgh Penguins have been giving everyone a hard time this season, except for teams in their own division.
Malkin scored three goals for the second time in 11 days, and Conklin stopped 43 shots to remain unbeaten in regulation as the Penguins beat the New York Rangers 4-1 on Monday night.
“Every win’s important, but certainly the divisional games are the most important ones,” Conklin said.
Until Monday, Pittsburgh’s streak had come entirely against non-division opponents. The Penguins entered only 4-10-1 against the Atlantic Division, but 21-6-2 against everyone else. They had won only two of their past 11 in the division.
“We wanted to improve that,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s only one, but it’s a starting point. We know we have to be stronger in that area, so we will take it for sure.”
Crosby had two assists and Sergei Gonchar also scored for the Penguins, who are 9-0-1 in their last 10 and have won six in a row at home. Conklin, who has started the past 10 games, improved to 10-0-1.
“It’s been the same story. It’s like a broken record (with Conklin),” Crosby said. “He’s been so consistent and made some key saves, some big ones when we needed him to and gave us a chance to chip away.”
Jaromir Jagr scored his 13th goal for New York, which has lost six of seven and four in a row on the road.
Malkin, whose first NHL hat trick was on Jan. 3 against Toronto also at home, scored just 3:31 in. The Rangers inexplicably didn’t cover him after he collected the puck in the right-wing corner and skated untouched toward the net before flipping a wrist shot over the stick side of Henrik Lundqvist.
“We gave them too much space tonight,” Jagr said. “We’ve got to play them differently. They’re too young, too quick.”
Crosby assisted on that goal to give him a league-high 42. The two connected again 3 minutes later to make it 2-0. A perfect head-man pass from defenseman Rob Scuderi sprung Crosby into the offensive zone, where he split two defensemen and got a shot on net. Malkin was there to tap in the rebound for his 22nd goal.
Crosby, the defending NHL scoring champion, tied Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier for the league lead with 63 points.
“It’s very easy to play with someone like Crosby,” Malkin said through an interpreter. “He’s the best player in the world, and he was making such great passes so I just have to get myself open and he will get me the puck.”
Pittsburgh made it 3-0 with a goal while on a two-man advantage with 3:12 left in the opening period. Already killing a penalty, New York’s Michal Rozsival was assessed an elbowing minor when he blatantly hit Kris Letang in the face after a whistle in front of the net.
It took only 11 seconds for Gonchar to blast a slap shot from the point past Lundqvist.
“Everything’s easier when you’ve got a three-goal lead,” said Conklin, who set a career high for saves. “You have a little leeway.”
Led by Conklin, Pittsburgh protected that advantage but gave up a lot of shots on goal. The Rangers held a 17-2 advantage in shots in the second period.
“I thought we had a great first period, but believe the second was not our best,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “(The Rangers) were playing with desperation.”
It wasn’t until midway through the third that Jagr, a former Penguin, broke up Conklin’s bid for his third shutout in only 11 starts this season. While on the power play, Jagr took a pass from Scott Gomez behind the net, attempted a wraparound, picked up his own rebound and scored.
That was the Rangers’ 40th shot of the game—the third consecutive time they have had 40 or more.
Among the best of Conklin’s 39 stops to that point included stoning Greg Moore in the slot during the first period, denying a slap shot by Gomez early in the second and saving a shot by Chris Drury while on the power play midway through the third.
“You can have some tough luck around the other team’s net and not score and be snake-bitten,” New York coach Tom Renney said. “I feel we weren’t destined for one tonight.”
Malkin had a few chances for the hat trick before scoring into an empty net with 24 seconds remaining. The 21-year-old Russian and last season’s rookie of the year moved into a tie for sixth in the Eastern Conference in goals, but was not named to the All-Star team.
“I’m kind of a little bit disappointed, but that means I’ll have to work a little bit harder,” he said.
The Penguins improved to 6-0-2 in their past eight against the Rangers at Mellon Arena. … Malkin has a six-game point streak that started with his hat trick against Toronto. … During their past six home games, the Penguins have allowed only eight goals.