Respect can take many different forms in the NHL.
Sometimes, it's presented by removing one's helmet for the pregame national anthems, or by taking time out of a busy day to mingle with young, impressionable fans. Other times, as was the case during the Pittsburgh Penguins' 7-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night, respect is garnered through an exchange of knuckles.
Less than four minutes into the second and last matchup between the Pens and Jets this season, Evgeni Malkin promptly dropped the gloves off an offensive zone draw with Blake Wheeler—the Jets' captain whom Malkin clipped with a controversial high hit during a Feb. 17 meeting in Pittsburgh. As he himself felt the hit on Wheeler was a little high, Malkin was prepared to answer the bell on Wednesday.
"I knew it wasn't a great hit, and I respect [Wheeler]. He asked me if I wanted to fight and I respect him, he's captain of his team. He's got that leadership and I just knew it was coming and I was ready to fight", Malkin said to Sportsnet after the game.
"It wasn't my greatest fight, couple punches. I lost. One fight is enough for me," he added.
Maybe not his greatest fight, well, definitely not, but Malkin did a whole lot of damage where it really counts—on the score sheet. The 30-year-old added two goals and an assist to complete the always-revered Gordie Howe hat trick, becoming the first Penguin to do so since Brendan Morrow in the 2013 playoffs. As a result of his big outing, Malkin hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in five seasons and has jumped firmly into the NHL's tight scoring race.
The three-time All-Star now sits tied with three others, including teammate Sidney Crosby, for second in points with 70, while the big Russian sits tied for third with 31 goals. Malkin has caught serious fire since returning from a knee injury on Feb. 14, recording 16 points in 11 games including 9 goals (two of them game-winners) while boasting a ridiculous 30.1 shooting percentage.
The scoring race is looking like it will go right down to the wire with five players—Malkin, Crosby, Brad Marchand, Patrick Kane and Mark Scheifele—all within striking distance of Connor McDavid's league-leading 74 points.
Malkin and Crosby, who lead the entire NHL in points-per-game at 1.21 and 1.19, respectively, look poised to challenge for the scoring title as they gear up to try and guide the Penguins to a second straight Stanley Cup title.