Malkin’s Leadership Elevated Penguins Against Blue Jackets

The Pittsburgh Penguins have officially started their regular season with one win and one loss under their belt; both being undeniably different performances altogether. However, one player that stood out in the first game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres was Evgeni Malkin, who produced the only goal for the Penguins.

In addition to his presence in the first game, the veteran’s words and morale continued to impact the team into their second game, which concluded with a 7-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Malkin’s Impact and Performance

Malkin has easily become one of the most impactful players for the Penguins. In his 13 (soon to be 14) seasons with the team, he has reached significant milestones, including contributing to three of the five Stanley Cups Championships for the Penguins, receiving the Conn Smythe trophy in 2009, and marking his 1,000-point milestone in 2019

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL, Hockey, Stanley Cup, NHL 100
One of the more notable current players left off the NHL 100 list was Evgeni Malkin. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

With his incredible record, Malkin’s performance is crucial for the success of the Penguins. He makes remarkable goals and has a hand in many others. However, he had struggled the past season, failing to perform the way he and Penguins’ fans wanted.

After playing 68 games last season, he tallied 21 goals and 51 assists. Though he produced over a point per game on average, there was something noticeably different about his presence, confidence, and performance overall.

Evgeni Malkin
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 02: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against Neal Pionk #44 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 2, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Though he was producing at over a point per game, he just didn’t seem like himself at times throughout the season. He posted a career worst -25 rating meaning he was on the ice for a fair share of goals against and he was directly at fault for more than a few of those goals.

2018-19 Penguins’ Season in Review: Evgeni Malkin

After Phil Kessel was traded to the Arizona Coyotes, Malkin made it a mission to improve his performance for the 2019-20 season, which was visibly apparent during the first two games of the season.

Oct. 3, 2019: Penguins vs. Sabres

The season opener against the Buffalo Sabres was a game that left a lot to be desired. After losing 3-1, the Penguins as a whole failed to maintain control of the puck, failed to have a strong defense, and failed to score goals. 

One highlight of the game was Malkin’s performance. His game was noticeably elevated and fans could tell he wanted to score a goal; his power-play goal happened to be the only one on the board by the end of the night. After the game, a disappointed Malkin criticized his team for their less-than-acceptable performance.

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Everything. We’re not good enough. They were hungry, they played so much faster. They win battles. Young guys are around the league right now. We need to play faster. We need to play hungry. Every puck we need a win. It’s not good for us; how we played tonight, we need to change.

Center Evgeni Malkin

Malkin’s notes may seem harsh but are true concerns. Looking back at the game, the team did not click and there was more urgency on the Sabres’ end than on the Penguins. Moving forward, however, their second game had starkly contrasted the first. 

Oct. 5, 2019: Penguins vs. Blue Jackets

The Penguins’ second game would have definitely satisfied the disgruntled Malkin. The Penguins won 7-2, with two goals from Jared McCann and Patric Hornqvist. Malkin’s efforts to rally his team’s morale proved effective, but after an awkward collision with Blue Jacket, Vladislav Gavrikov, Malkin had to end his night early (‘Penguins rout Blue Jackets but lose Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad’ – TribLive – 10/5/19).

Evgeni Malkin and Justin Williams (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Considering the Penguins lost their most motivated player, their performance helped prove the naysayers wrong. The Penguins do have the ability to establish chemistry and urgency on the ice, and they definitely have the talent to do so. Malkin’s injury forced him off the ice for this game, but his words quite possibly helped push his fellow teammates to another level. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, Malkin’s recent shaky performance can’t be fully explained by fans, but his desire to do better is completely apparent. The team as a whole needs to work on their consistency and their hunger to win each matchup they enter. After looking at these two very different games, it might take time to tie down lineups or plays, but the team morale needs to be consistent. 

Malkin’s comments definitely seemed harsh. But on the other hand, his comments actually appeared to be true and fair from the fan perspective. As a leader, it’s important to notice when your team isn’t performing as they should and as an alternate captain, Malkin’s support and tough love helped the Penguins elevate their play during the second game of the season.