Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin returned to game action for the first time in February on Monday night, but he may very well have earned his way back out of the lineup with a dangerous stick infraction.
With a little less than five minutes remaining in the third period against Philadelphia, Malkin battled for the puck along the boards with a couple of Flyers players. Malkin was primarily tangled with Michael Raffl, who at one point bear-hugged the Penguins star and at another swung his fist at Malkin’s head.
Malkin retaliated to the latter by taking a wild one-handed stick swing at Raffl’s head. Malkin received a match penalty on the play, which means the league is reviewing it for suspension. The Penguin agreed it wasn’t a smart play by any measure, but believed the penalty call was excessive.
“I know it’s dirty, but I missed,” Malkin told the media after the game. “He just like dived and the referee give me five minutes. (He wasn’t) injured, not bleeding, nothing.
“I know I gave them a five-minute power play, but it’s my fault for sure. Play smart next time.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he, too, was surprised about the call on the ice.
“I just think on Geno’s part it was reactionary. He was getting punched in the back of the head. It was a battle between the two of them and I think it was reactionary,” Sullivan said. “I was a little surprised it was a match because the player didn’t get hurt on it or there wasn’t real significant contact. But that’s now how the referee saw it.”
Malkin missed the first five games of February due to injury. The last game he appeared in came against Tampa Bay, during which he dropped the gloves with Steven Stamkos.
The Flyers scored a goal on the ensuing power play, but the Penguins were able to convert a shorthanded goal in the final minute on an empty net. Pittsburgh came away with a 4-1 win that opened up a three-point lead on Carolina for the second wild-card spot, and an eight-point lead on the Flyers, who sit 11th in the East.