It’s been almost two years since the NHL announced its 100 Greatest Players, and hockey fans are still scratching their heads that Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin didn’t make the cut. Ever the jokester, Malkin told TSN’s Frank Seravalli:
Maybe next year – the 101 NHL year – [they’ll] send me a great black jacket and I will be No. 101.
All kidding aside, Malkin’s 2018-19 start is one of his best in recent memory, proving that being overlooked by the NHL’s Greatest Players committee, or any others, doesn’t affect his drive or production.
Malkin Wows in Canada
Long road trips, especially a jet-lagged cross-Canada swing, can take a toll, hindering on-ice performance. The Penguins had no problem with the early (mainly western) trip, locking up a 4-0-0 record against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks, with Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith earning shutouts and 17 different players putting up points.
Malkin shined in the final game of the trip against the Canucks, finding the net twice in 59 seconds to give the Penguins a 4-0 lead. In fact, four of Malkin’s five goals on the season and nine of his 13 points were scored in the last four games.
GOAL! MALKIN! AGAIN! Less than a minute apart. The Penguins are up 4-0. 4:46 left in the 3rd. pic.twitter.com/I1mdv0UmIF
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 28, 2018
I have to ask, why and what? Why is Malkin suddenly producing at a rate that has him second in the league in assists and tied for second in the league in points? What changes has he made to make this type of production possible? Maybe, pairing him with Phil Kessel on the same line has led to a scoring surge for both players. Malkin told the Associated Press:
“When Phil plays good, I am playing good. When he is feeling it, I feel it, too. When he is lazy I am like, I can’t do it myself,” (from ‘DeSmith blanks Canucks; Penguins finish perfect Canada trip’, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – 10/28/18).
While there is truth to that—hockey is a team sport after all—Malkin is selling himself short. He is kicking other players into gear this season. Sidney Crosby was off to a slow start that corrected itself during the Canada road trip but when Crosby goes down, because of injury or a slump, Malkin is there to pick up the pieces.
After nine games, Malkin is averaging two points per game. He might not be able to do it all by himself, but he sure is making a push to carry the bulk of the load, and why not?
Malkin’s Production Is No Surprise
It’s not as though Malkin has been hibernating for years and chose the 2018-19 season to start contributing. It’s easy to forget with Crosby in the lineup, but Malkin would be a first-line center player on any other team. In Pittsburgh, he rides shotgun; his performance, however, does not.
Aside from being a three-time Stanley Cup champion, Malkin skated for Team Russia in three Winter Olympics (2006, Turin; 2010, Vancouver; 2014, Sochi), has been selected for seven NHL All-Star Games, been named a First-Team All-Star three times (2007-08, 2008-09, 2011-12) and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2006-07.
He has also collected the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP (2009), the Hart Memorial Trophy for regular season MVP (2011-12), the Art Ross Trophy for regular season point leader (2008-09, 2011-12), the Ted Lindsay Award for players’ association MVP (2011-12), and the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year (2006-07). The only other Penguin to win all of these awards is Mario Lemieux.
What’s more, Malkin scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game on Oct. 18, 2006, against the New Jersey Devils at Mellon Arena. It was an impressive feat, made more so by the fact that he had just returned from a four-game absence due to a separated shoulder, which he injured during the preseason.
Malkin is no sleeper, and it makes me wonder why—after proving himself time and time again through play, performance, and tangible awards—he doesn’t draw more attention in his own right, rather than in tandem with other teammates, like one half of Crosby’s two-headed monster, or Kessel’s catalyst.
Malkin Off the Radar
In 2017, when asked about his early relationship with Malkin, Crosby told Pittsburgh Penguins New Media Manager Michelle Crechiolo:
He’s someone I saw play … [but I] didn’t know a lot about him, and didn’t have any friends who had played with him or anything like that. Just kind of unknown, you know?
It’s not surprising that Crosby didn’t know much about Malkin before they started playing together, as Malkin can be just outside the media’s focus at times. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s not for lack of performance. Perhaps its because Malkin would rather focus on his team’s goals—like winning another Stanley Cup—than draw attention to his own personal victories
In a 2013 interview with SportsNet’s Dave Zarum, former Pittsburgh Penguin (now with the Washington Capitals) Brooks Orpik talked about how Malkin prefers to stay out of the media spotlight:
I think he plays it off with the media that he doesn’t speak as well as he does just so he can avoid interviews… [H]e loves having Sid here because Sid is so good with the media. If [Malkin] went somewhere where he was ‘The Guy,’ I don’t think he would enjoy it very much.
Malkin’s time to be “The Guy” could be coming. In addition to his hot start, Malkin has the potential to hit two personal milestones this season. He is 25 goals away from hitting the 400-career-goal plateau and 52 points away from reaching the 1,000 career point threshold.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens when Malkin hits those marks. Will his personal goals be enough to draw attention away from Crosby’s latest play or Murray’s last big save? Or will they be a footnote in a larger story about one of Malkin’s linemates?
Only time will tell.