Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens

Searching for Evgeni Malkin’s game


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.

Larkin will start season with Red Wings

Dylan Larkin
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Dylan Larkin — despite being just 19 years old — will begin the season on the Detroit Red Wings, a team not normally accustomed to having teenagers in the lineup.

Coach Jeff Blashill confirmed the news this morning. Larkin could apparently start on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Larkin, the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, had three goals and one assist in five preseason games. A natural center, he’s shown the potential to one day step into the kind of “big-time” role that Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have played for so long in Detroit.

“You have to give our scouts credit,” former coach Mike Babcock told ESPN in May. “We got a great pick where we picked. How high end is he? How soon?”

Related: Coaching change ‘one of the reasons’ Larkin signed with Wings

Preseason stats: Five goalies with good numbers, five goalies with…not

Anders Nilsson
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Yeah, yeah, it’s a small sample size and it’s just the preseason, but here are some goaltending stats anyway.

Five goalies with good numbers

Anders Nilsson, Edmonton — zero goals on 53 shots. His solid play a likely factor in the decision to waive Ben Scrivens, who actually wasn’t that bad in the preseason (4 goals on 56 shots).

Martin Jones, San Jose — three goals on 100 shots. The Sharks are rolling the dice on a couple of cheap goalies. Jones and Alex Stalock have a combined cap hit of just $4.6 million.

Jacob Markstom, Vancouver — three goals on 79 shots. Can he finally get over the NHL hump? If so, he could make it a real competition with Ryan Miller.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus — five goals on 122 shots. The Blue Jackets have scored a ton of goals in the preseason, but there remain questions about their blue line. Bobrovsky has the ability to make a so-so defense look good.

Anton Khudobin, Anaheim — two goals on 67 shots. A good early sign for the Ducks, who have Frederik Andersen in the starting role and want to give young John Gibson more time to develop in the AHL.

Five goalies with bad numbers

Thomas Greiss, Islanders — 14 goals on 94 shots. Has to be a bit of concern in Brooklyn. The Isles got below-average backup play last season from Chad Johnson. They wanted to fix that with the Greiss signing.

Robin Lehner, Buffalo — 11 goals on 95 shots. Tim Murray paid a hefty price to get the 24-year-old out of Ottawa. With the aforementioned Johnson in the backup role, the goaltending story is worth watching.

Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh — 11 goals on 74 shots. Granted, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matthew Murray weren’t particularly sharp either. The Penguins conceded 28 goals in eight games.

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas — 15 goals on 84 shots. For a Stars team that desperately needs better goaltending, that has to be worrying. Antti Niemi wasn’t a whole lot better either, allowing eight goals on 65 shots. Fair question to ask — how many of all those goals were attributable to poor defensive play?

Pekka Rinne, Nashville — 12 goals on 91 shots. Has earned the benefit of the doubt, but thought we’d point it out anyway.