March of the Penguin

Just from a historical aspect, here's a "must-see" NHL game coming up on Wednesday night.

When he faces the Los Angeles Kings, super-rookie Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins can continue the best start by a player since the league's first season in 1917-18.

Malkin, the second overall pick by Pittsburgh in 2004, has goals in his first five games -- the longest streak by a rookie since Dmitri Kvartalnov did it for the Boston Bruins in 1992-93.

Malkin can be the first player since Joe Malone, Newsy Lalonde and Cy Denneny to score in his first six NHL games -- all he needs to do is pot one against a defense that has allowed three or more goals in eight of its first 14 games.

Only hardcore hockey fans -- the ones who understand the history of the game -- will recognize the names Malone, Lalonde and Denneny. About the time World War I was in full swing, the NHL started with four teams, the Canadiens and Wanderers in Montreal, the Arenas in Toronto and the Senators in Ottawa. There also was the Quebec Bulldogs, but they never took the ice, and the Wanderers' season lasted only six games after Montreal Arena burned down.

And in those first 44 games that comprised the 1917-18 season, Malone, Lalonde and Denneny were the reasons to watch the new league.

Over the decades, the NHL has had superstars from Mario Lemieux to Wayne Gretzky to Gordie Howe. According the Hockey Hall of Fame Web site, Malone may have been the first.

While known for his unique upright skating style and revered for his excellent conduct on the ice, what set "Phantom" Joe Malone apart from the rest was an ability to find openings and weave his way through the defensive alignments of the opposition.

Playing in just 20 games that first season on a line with Lalonde and Didier Pitre, the Quebec City native scored 44 of the Canadiens' 115 goals.

Go through the league's official guide and record book, pretty much the annual bible of all things hockey, and you'll see Malone's name still in there. Playing in his final game for Quebec in 1920, Malone scored a record seven goals in a 10-6 win over Toronto. He also was one of seven players to score six times in a game -- a feat that has not been done since Darryl Sittler for the Maple Leafs in 1976.

Though he played just 125 games over seven seasons, Malone finished his NHL career with 173 goals.

Years before suiting up for Montreal, Edouard "Newsy" Lalonde was carving out a reputation as a scorer. Playing for Toronto of the Ontario Professional Hockey League in 1907, he won the scoring title was 29 goals in only nine games.

The next season with the Renfrew (British Columbia) Millionaires of the National Hockey Assocation -- a precursor to the NHL -- he scored a record nine goals in one game.

When the Canadiens joined the NHL in 1917, Lalonde appeared in only 14 games and still scored 23 times in that initial season. He also had a mean streak, averaging nearly 4 minutes in penalties per game.

The nickname, by the way, came about because he worked in a Cornwall, Ontario newsprint plant as a youth.

Denneny was Ottawa's answer to Malone. In that initial season, the "Cornwall Colt" had 36 goals and 46 points -- just two in back of Malone for the league lead.

Denneny also had 80 penalty minutes in just 20 games, far and away the most among the league's scoring leaders in that first season. Despite his scoring prowess -- he was the league leader in career goals for most of the 20s and early 30s -- Denneny also may have been the league's first bodyguard for finesse players like Frank Nighbor and Jack Darragh.

Denneny spent his first 11 seasons with Ottawa and led the Senators to three Stanley Cups before playing his final season with the Boston Bruins in 1928-29. He retired as league's leading point scorer of all time with 331, including 246 goals.

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