What's 'wrong' with Evgeni Malkin?

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geno2.jpgLast year, Evgeni Malkin came just short of winning the Hart Trophy before winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. If there were an NHL award for best overall season, Malkin may have been the unanimous choice. So, yes, perhaps it’s fair for writers such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook to wonder if the buzzards will begin swarming if Geno doesn’t start putting up bigger numbers.

“I know I’m not scoring,” Malkin said, meeting the question head on. “People are a little bit maybe mad … “

Not yet, they aren’t.

Malkin gets more of a pass in this town than, say, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who will spend today and Tuesday reading and hearing how he was thoroughly outplayed by Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the Canadiens’ 3-1 win in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at Mellon Arena even though his teammates had a couple of bad breakdowns in front of him.

But it will get ugly for Malkin fairly quickly if his scoring drought continues.

I couldn’t help but wonder, then: has Malkin been that weak in the playoffs? Here’s a spreadsheet with his numbers from last year’s playoffs and this year’s output. Click to enlarge.

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After the jump, I’ll throw out a few hypotheses for what might be “ailing” Malkin.


tank.jpg(Note: it’s important to keep in mind that I think it’s silly to throw Malkin under the bus. However, there are a few factors that might play into why he’s only putting up great numbers – 9 points in eight games – instead of astronomical numbers.)

1. Ruslan Fedotenko/Alex Ponikarovsky

Both Sidney Crosby and Malkin are probably used to raising the game of mediocre-to-decent wingers, but it seems like that problem is affecting Geno’s numbers to an extent. In 08-09, Malkin was able to adapt to Fedotenko becoming his main playmaking target after Petr Sykora landed in coach Dan Bylsma’s doghouse. Just look at the drop in Fedotenko’s producton; last year he put up 14 points in 24 playoff games and this year he has a goose egg in only 4 games played. Ponikarovsky isn’t exactly living up to his trade deadline hype, either.

2. Opponents

Don’t forget that Malkin boosted his stats against weak defensive opponents last year, feasting on Philadelphia (9 points in 6 GP) and Carolina (9 points in 4 GP) for half of his playoff output. While Montreal and Ottawa are flawed teams, they play tighter defense than most of Geno’s non-Detroit competition from last year.

3. Fatigue?

I don’t like this excuse, but Malkin has played a lot of hockey lately. Perhaps that won’t stop him from being productive, but it could curtail some of his consistency.

Anyway, I must state again that I think it’s silly to complain about 9 points in 8 playoff games. Still, Malkin isn’t a player who affects a game without scoring quite like Crosby, so I can understand the critiques. What do you think? What’s bugging Malkin? Should the Penguins be worried at all?

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.