Penguins’ Commitment to Crosby & Malkin Being Rewarded

When the Pittsburgh Penguins first announced that forward Evgeni Malkin and defenceman Kris Letang were re-signing with the team, the immediate reaction was jubilation as they and captain Sidney Crosby have since become the longest-tenured teammates in sports history, passing Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees. Although fans were ecstatic, some analysts (including me) questioned the nature of the contracts, both long-term deals that contribute to the team’s cap issues.

Kris Letang Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins
Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate a goal (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Out of the gate in 2022-23, the core seems to be playing better than ever. Crosby leads the team in scoring with six points, and Malkin close behind in third with four points in three games. Despite the uncertainty that came from some people, the core is once again leading the way for the black-and-gold.

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Malkin Playing Like His Younger Self Again

The Penguins’ Russian superstar seems to be back on the rise after a comparatively down 2021-22 season. He spent half of last season on injured reserve, dealing with lingering effects from his offseason knee surgery. After the surgery was officially confirmed, it was publicized that the injury had nagged him even during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Athletic describes his injury:

He might as well have been using just one skate, his right knee was that bad. How he did anything against the Islanders — how he even played — I don’t believe it. Shows you just how much he cares; his pride, too.

A Penguins team source comments on Malkin playing in last season’s playoffs with his knee injury. (From “Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin has knee surgery, expected to be out for training camp” The Athletic Staff. 4/6/21)

In his absence, the team found a combination of replacement players who stepped up; both Danton Heinen and Evan Rodrigues (now of the Colorado Avalanche) contributed to the offence far more than likely anyone expected, and the Penguins found themselves among the top teams in the Eastern Conference once Malkin returned. As a result of his tumultuous 2021-22 season, he entered this season with a vengeance. He seems invigorated in a manner unlike his teammates have ever seen, as he high-fived each one during the roster introduction in the home opener. He has said he feels better than ever, and that has been reflected in his performance thus far.

Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Through the Penguins’ first four games, Malkin has tallied four points, good for third in team scoring, behind only Crosby and forward Bryan Rust. Three of those points came on goals in the first three games, including a two-goal effort in the overtime loss to the Montréal Canadiens.

Captain Crosby Once Again the Best Performer

If Malkin disproved the doubters after his injury-plagued 2021-22, Crosby has simply further cemented himself as one of the modern NHL’s greatest players and the Penguins’ official ambassador. In the small sample size that is the 2022-23 season, he already leads the team in points with seven (two goals, five assists) in four games. At one very brief point, he also led the entire league in scoring. In recognition of his dominance, he was bestowed the season’s first Player of the Week Award.

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In storybook fashion, the Penguins’ season opener was marked by a Crosby goal, the team’s first of the season. He also added two assists that night in the 6-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. Not only is this a welcome (and somewhat expected) development given the ages of both he and Malkin, but his remarkable consistency and presence will also set him up nicely when his contract ends at the conclusion of the 2024-25 season.

Related: Pittsburgh Penguins Re-Sign Evgeni Malkin to 4-Year Deal

The Penguins came into the season with high expectations, some of which were forcibly tempered as a result of their cap situation and the deals to which they signed Malkin and Letang. Despite the questions that swirled as a result of those contracts, management is reaping the rewards early on.