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Searching for Evgeni Malkin’s game

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For new fans or more casual observers of the sport, Sidney Crosby’s concussion issues might seem like a rare bump in the road for the star and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yet that’s just not the case, as they’ve been down this road before; the team banded together and played winning hockey during the 2007-08 season despite the fact that Crosby missed 29 games mostly thanks to a high ankle sprain.

There was, however, one big difference between then and now: Evgeni Malkin was playing like one of the greatest talents in the NHL around that time, which showed when he scored 47 points during a 26-game stretch without Crosby. While no one will mistake him for a marginal player right now, there’s little doubt that the skilled Russian hasn’t been the same since producing a disappointing 73-point campaign last season.

Before we get into three discussions of Malkin’s issues, I thought I’d provide my two cents on the subject.

No Petr Sykora

Malkin’s big frame and willingness to take on a bunch of defenders can open up a lot of space, but he hasn’t had a finisher since the underrated Sykora’s effectiveness diminished rapidly during the team’s Cup winning run in 08-09.

Skyora’s numbers weren’t especially gaudy, though they were solid. He produced 28 and 25 games skating alongside Malkin, which isn’t outrageously out of sync with his career stats. That being said, his 63-point 07-08 season was his best output since he was a member of a sublime line with Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott at the age of 23.

But more than that, he was a security blanket for the mercurial Malkin; his single-minded finishing skills and reasonable ability to communicate (Sykora is a Czech; Malkin is Russian) made him a valuable linemate for Geno. Now Malkin plays with pluggers and can no longer rely on Sykora or fellow Russian Sergei Gonchar for support.

No rest

Considering the mileage accrued from two SCF runs, another regular season plus playoffs and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, it was somewhat astounding that both Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk decided to participate in the 2010 World Championships in Germany.

Hopefully that gold medal was worth it, because Malkin is struggling and Datsyuk is injured. Is it because they didn’t rest during the summer? Not necessarily, but it couldn’t help matters.

***

Now that we’ve gotten into my theories, let’s look at three other takes on Malkin’s troubles.

The gang at the Pensblog blames his issues on Dan Bylsma’s system, which emphasizes tough forechecking above a finesse-based game and fits in with my Sykora hypothesis to an extent. I agree that the hard-charging style doesn’t suit Malkin, but his power play issues indicate that his game just isn’t right at the moment.

Joel from Black & Blue & Gold writes that the fix is simple: Malkin needs to make his game more dynamic. I have to agree with that big picture analysis; it seems like Malkin and fellow ludicrously talented Russian Alex Ovechkin haven’t evolved much (relatively speaking) since their rookie seasons. Many would (justifiably) argue that they’re incredible as is, but considering the relentless improvement shown by Sidney Crosby, their lack of development in other areas of the game seems a bit stark at times.

Mike Colligan goes a step further, though, wondering if the Penguins should shut down the possibly injured star. This falls in line with the fact that Malkin didn’t take the time he needed to rest up last summer. Colligan points out the fact that the next two weeks could provide an ideal window for Malkin to rest, too.

Rest has done him well in the past, but it’s not easy convincing a tough/stubborn player to head to the press box.  With Crosby also out of the lineup Malkin will want to be on the ice, even at fifty-percent, but Bylsma and his staff need to decide how important a couple of wins in mid-January are to the team’s future.

After tonight’s game against Detroit, the Penguins will play just three games (against New Jersey, Carolina, and NY Islanders) over the next 13 days.  There won’t be a better time this season to sit Malkin down and get him fully healed from whatever ailments are bothering him.

There are plenty of reasons why Malkin isn’t approaching the all-world numbers he once produced. Chances are that he’s suffering from a combination of those issues (and maybe more), but we can only speculate right now.

What do you think the Penguins should do to “fix” their floundering “other” superstar? Let us know in the comments.

Video: Pavelski gives Sharks the lead as they look to clinch berth in Stanley Cup Final

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Perseverance paid off for the San Jose Sharks.

Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, pushing home a loose puck on Brian Elliott after Joe Thornton was unable to convert on the breakaway seconds before.

For Pavelski, that’s his league-leading 13th goal of these playoffs.

The Sharks can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history with a win tonight.

San Jose increased its lead to two goals, as Joel Ward capitalized early in the second period.

Canucks trade Jared McCann to the Panthers for Erik Gudbranson

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Jared McCann #91 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers have made a trade — and it’s a big one.

As per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the two main components are forward Jared McCann, who just completed his rookie season with the Canucks, and 24-year-old defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who has played five seasons with the Florida Panthers.

Here are the details:

McCann is the second draft selection of the Jim Benning-Trevor Linden era, taken 24th overall in 2014. As a 19-year-old rookie armed with a big-league wrist shot, he scored nine goals and 18 points while averaging 12:31 of ice time per game in 69 games.

The Canucks had the option of sending McCann back to junior last season and not burning a year of his entry-level deal, but they chose to keep him in Vancouver for the entire year.

One particular aspect of his development, particularly this off-season, was a need to get physically stronger, which was something that could be exposed at times in the defensive end against bigger forwards.

Gudbranson, selected third overall in 2010 and signed to a one-year, $3.5 million extension earlier this month, certainly gives the Canucks size on the back end at six-foot-five-inches tall, a physical presence and a right shot on the blue line, but he has managed only 13 points as a single-season career best and that was in 2014-15.

The Canucks also gave up two picks in this year’s draft.

 

Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

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It has been an Eastern Conference Final full of twists and turns in the plot.

Exhibit A: The goaltending situation for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. 

That began right away, in the first period of Game 1 when Ben Bishop was stretchered off the ice with a lower-body injury. Since then, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been The Guy for the Lightning, which will face the Penguins in a Game 7, winner-take-all contest, in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Of the many storylines heading into this contest, one that stands out is it’s expected to be a goaltending duel between the 21-year-old Vasilevskiy and the Matt Murray, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday.

(Remember when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan went with Marc-Andre Fleury to start over Murray in Game 5, only to switch back to Murray for a must-win Game 6? Another plot twist.)

Bolts head coach Jon Cooper had previously left the door open to the possibility that Bishop could return in this series. On Wednesday, however, he told reporters he’ll meet with his staff but does not anticipate Bishop being in for Game 7.

“I think Andrei is the big reason we’re in Game 7,” said Cooper.

“He’s made big save after big save for us. The one thing that I do like that’s happened to him finally in this series is, you know, he finally started a playoff game and won, whereas his other playoff wins were always in relief, and he’s won in Pittsburgh. So you’ve got to like the kid feels pretty comfortable playing there, and we like that.”

WATCH LIVE: Blues at Sharks – Game 6

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues, Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks, and Joe Thornton #19 argue with a referee during the second period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks can make franchise history on home ice tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Win, and the Sharks clinch their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and it’s back to St. Louis for a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference Final.

You can catch tonight’s Game 6 on NBCSN (9 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday