Malkin hitting his stride as Penguins host Canadiens

Going into a game Tuesday against the visiting Montreal Canadiens at PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin has been reminding everyone that he is his club's other superstar center.

In the 13 games that Sidney Crosby has missed because of a sports hernia that required surgery, Malkin has six goals and 14 assists.

In addition to being a three-time Stanley Cup winner, Malkin is a past Art Ross, Hart and Conn Smythe trophy winner. He knows his way around elite play on offense.

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Now he's adding other elements and doing it at a high level.

"I'm thrilled with (Malkin's) game right now," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "The offense is obvious to everyone. But he's winning faceoffs. We're using him in (defensive) zone situations. ... He's playing with structure."

Malkin made a stated point of upping his offseason workouts and preparation after what, for him, was a down season in 2018-19. Then he got hurt in the second game of the season and missed nearly a month.

Now he seems to be hitting the stride he was aiming for.

"I see it," Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang told The Athletic. "I definitely do. He's improved his game on both sides of the puck so much this season.

"I think he's getting rewarded now. His defense is so good that it's creating a lot of turnovers and a lot of scoring rushes for us. Before, he was just trying to beat guys one-on-one all the time. That gets tough, no matter who you are. By playing better defense, he's helping himself."

Not to mention the team. Pittsburgh is 7-3-3 without Crosby.

The Canadiens, since going eight games without a regulation win (0-5-3) by a collective 38-20, have won two of three by a combined 8-6, including a 2-1 win on Friday against the Rangers in New York.

"The last couple games we've been playing well, giving up way less chances, way less odd-man rushes," Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot said. "We haven't been getting necessarily the wins that we would want, but the way we've been playing is the right way to play -- a lot better structure defensively.

"And goal scoring is going to have to come by committee with our team. It's not one guy or two guys. ... When we have those two things going for us, I think we're a pretty good team."

As a goaltender, Carey Price can appreciate the improved defensive performance.

"I think we're playing ... well, I know we're playing better on our side of the puck," Price said. "We're getting on top of their forwards coming back. It's all about just commitment."

Despite the lull that Montreal seems to be coming out of, the team is still above .500 and in the thick of a glob of teams behind Boston in the Atlantic Division.

"There's ups and downs," winger Brendan Gallagher said. "We know how quickly you can move up, how quickly you can move down. You've just got to be able to handle that. What we went through the last few weeks wasn't enjoyable. We've got to learn from it."

Montreal has recalled forward Riley Barber, a Pittsburgh-area native who led Laval of the American Hockey League with 18 points in 21 games.

--Field Level Media

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