— It’s not a stretch to say Evgeni Malkin (45G-50A-95Pts) locked up the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross with another dazzling two goal effort in the Penguins 5-1 victory over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. “If I had to vote today, there’s no question he’d be the MVP for me,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “I just saw him once up close and he was great, ” Trotz added.
Malkin who scored his 44th and 45th goals of the season, buried an unstoppable shot past Pekka Rinne at 2:03 of the third period for his second goal of the game to cap off another dominating night for the Penguins who clinched a playoff spot. He had a game-high 10 shots on goal and the next highest players were Tyler Kennedy and James Neal who each had 2 shots on goal.
With 9 games remaining, Malkin holds a 10 point lead over Claude Giroux and 11 point lead over Steven Stamkos. Although a longshot, Malkin also has an outside chance at the Rocket Richard. He trails Steve Stamkos by just 5 goals as Malkin shoots for his first 50 goal season. Malkin and Stamkos are both averaging 0.68 goals per game and Malkin leads the NHL in points per game (1.44).
What makes the Penguins so dangerous to play right now has been their ability in the transition game. They are so quick going from defense to offense and they dominated in that area last night. A factor in the Penguins being so effective in the transition game is their aggressivess defensively in the neutral zone where teams are having trouble chipping the puck in the Penguins zone and establishing a forecheck.
The Predators showed last night they might not be ready for primetime. Pittsburgh rattled Nashvile scoring twice in the first 4:06 of the game and Nashville never recovered. “It rough start and same thing in second period, a quick goal for them and that was the game pretty much,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said. When evaluating this Predators team, they still clearly lack high end offensive players to compete with the likes of Pittsburgh, despite statistically ranking high offensively.

— What a season Pascal Dupuis (22G-25A-47Pts-+17) is having. He has 9 goals in his last 13 games, giving him 22 goals on the season. Dupuis 22 goals tie him for 3rd on the team and his 20 even strength goals are tied for 2nd on the team. After seeking a three year deal last summer and having to settle for a two year deal after the Penguins wouldn’t go three years and initially were only offering a one year deal, Dupuis has earned a one year extension this summer and the Penguins should add another year to his deal.
Sidney Crosby was pointless in 19:02 of ice time and he wasn’t a factor in the win. Crosby didn’t have much jump in his step and it was an ordinary game for him. Crosby saw time with a number of different players, including six to seven shifts with Jordan Staal, as Bylsma used Steve Sullivan with Staal and Crosby at times.
— I thought Deryk Engelland had a very strong game. He amassed 20:36 of ice time, was physical and I love the way he’s made jumping up in the play a focus in his game, a big reason he has surpassed Ben Lovejoy on the depth chart, compared to last year.
James Neal’s four assist night has moved him up to 5th in the NHL in points with 76. If Neal finishes the season in the top-5 in points, It will mark the third time since 2001-2001 the Penguins would have two players in the top-5.
2000-2001: 1. Jaromir Jagr (121 pts), 4. Alexei Kovalev (95 pts) | 2008-2009: Evgeni Malkin (113 pts), 3. Sidney Crosby (103 pts)
— Not only is the conference lead in reach but so is the Presidents Trophy for the Penguins. They trail St. Louis (46-20-9, 101 pts) by just three points, and have two games in hand on the Blues.
— Pittsburgh is averaging a league high 3.22 goals per game and have scored the most goals in the NHL at 235. Boston is second in the league at 3.14 goals per game.

Eastern Conference Standings

1. New York Rangers (46-20-7, 99 pts)
2. Boston Bruins (42-28-3, 87 pts)
3. Florida Panthers (36-24-13, 85 pts)
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (46-21-6, 98 pts)
5. Philadelphia Flyers (43-23-8, 94 pts)
6. New Jersey Devils (42-27-5, 89 pts)
7. Ottawa Senators (37-27-10, 84 pts)
8. Washington Capitals (37-30-7, 81 pts)
9. Buffalo Sabres (35-29-10, 80 pts)