Evgeni Malkin is not going down that easily if he has any say in it. After a slow start to the season, the Russian center finally found his game this past week. It was a vintage Malkin performance, barreling over defenses and creating chances for his linemates. This is good news for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are clawing for one of the playoff spots in a tight MassMutual East Division. The bear has been poked and he doesn’t want to be tamed.
Riding a 5-Game Point Streak
Malkin is red hot, starting a five-game point streak against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 3. In those five games, he had five assists and two goals.
His two goals were ones to remember. The first goal he scored was a backhanded wraparound on the power play against the Flyers on March 6. The second goal on March 7 against the New York Rangers was an odd-man rush where he put Kasperi Kapanen’s feed in the back of the net. These breakaways are becoming a common sight for Malkin and Kapanen, who have found chemistry this season.
Malkin has played with numerous different linemates this season, the consistency of Kapanen being his winger in the last four games has helped him breakout. At the beginning of the season, Malkin was like a ghost out there. Now he seems to be everywhere on the ice.
In his last 11 games, Malkin has recorded a point in nine of them. The Penguins lost both of the games in which he did not record a point. In six of the team’s 10 losses this season, he recorded zero points. His production is still essential for their chances of winning. The Penguins need him to take the pressure off the first line as there is still a lack of production on the third and fourth lines. Therefore Malkin’s emergence is perfect timing for the Penguins, who have won four of their last five games.
Head Coach Mike Sullivan acknowledged Malkin’s dominance after Saturday’s game against the Flyers saying, “I thought he was the difference-maker in the game tonight. He had an impact on the game, on both sides of the puck. That’s what we’ve grown to expect from him because he’s such a generational talent. I hope that is something he can build on.”
Pause the Trade Talks
The calls for trading Malkin should now be silenced. The Penguins are playing like a much better, more well-rounded team now that he has finally gotten going. They look like the offensive powerhouses that defined a generation, who skate around defenses and make them look silly. Look no further than Malkin’s assist on Kapanen’s goal last night against the Rangers, where they passed the puck around so much the Rangers’ heads must have been spinning. Passing like that makes it hard to argue against the possibility of the Penguins making a deep run in the playoffs. They still have three future Hall of Famers on their team, they aren’t going down that easily.
It’s no surprise Malkin finally broke out. It was bound to happen since he still is one of the top centers in the NHL. The same questions surrounded him last year. He responded by leading the team with 64 points in 55 games which was 14th in the league. He knows when he has to play better, and he plays better. The past two seasons have been anything but normal. The long layoffs, uncertainty, and shortened training camps that defined this crazy year were bound to affect every player’s game. Malkin is no different. All that matters is that he found his game now. The city of Pittsburgh can breathe a sigh of relief.