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Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin steps into spotlight in Toronto

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Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) makes a save on Pittsburgh Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin (71) as Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev (22) defends during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018.

TORONTO – At the start of Thursday night’s meeting between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t among the top three most talked about centers on the ice.

There was Auston Matthews, who had posted at least two points in all seven games his team had played to that point.

There was John Tavares, whose free-agent signing in July upped the marquee value of the matchup between the Penguins and Leafs.

There was Sidney Crosby, who is always the center of attention when he pays a visit to the media capital of the hockey world.

This is nothing new for Mr. 101 on the NHL’s list of the 100 greatest players of all time. He has a tendency to get overlooked at times.

By the end of the game, however, Malkin was taking a backseat to no one. He had two goals and an assist to lead the Penguins to an impressive 3-0 victory. He blocked four shots and won nine of the 14 faceoffs he took, too.

“I think it’s the best game of the season so far for us,” Malkin said. “We played three periods against Matthews, Tavares. We did a great job in the D zone too. We understand they’re skilled guys. We played physical, we played smart, and I think we deserved to win.”

While much of the early season talk around the league has revolved around the massive point totals Matthews and Tavares have been accumulating, Malkin is staying with the red-hot Leafs duo stride for stride with 12 points in six games.

He’s one of only four players in the league averaging at least two points per game. Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Matthews are the others.

His first goal Thursday came on a no-look bad-angle power-play shot from the goal line. His second came when he was the last player to touch the puck before it rolled off Nazem Kadri’s stick in the neutral zone and into the empty net in the final three minutes.

Malkin has 27 points in 18 career games at the newly renamed Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

“It’s a lucky building for me,” Malkin said. “We see tonight. Both goals a little bit lucky, for sure. The second, unbelievable. I didn’t touch the puck.”

More than his point total, Malkin was pleased with his team’s all-around effort Thursday night. The Penguins have been off to an uneven start to the season. He’d like to see that trend come to an end.

“We know we have a great team,” Malkin said. “If we play smart, if we play right, we can beat any team in the league. We have a great, experienced team. We know how to play tough games against skilled guys. We showed tonight. We stopped Matthews. Finally, he didn’t score.

“We have long trip, three more games in Canada. If we play the same, we deserve to win.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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