Evgeni Malkin

Is Evgeni Malkin’s red-hot preseason a sign that he’ll be an elite player again?


While Alex Ovechkin edged him for the Hart Trophy in 2008-09, Evgeni Malkin certainly would have won an award for the best combined regular season and playoffs (if there was one). The Pittsburgh Penguins star won the Art Ross Trophy with a league-leading 113 points and then earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the team won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

At that time, a common joke was that Crosby “wasn’t even the best player on his own team” because of Malkin’s genius. Things just haven’t been the same for the slick Russian center since then, though. He scored “just” 77 points in 67 contests in 09-10 and then things really bottomed out in a 37-point, 43-game campaign in 10-11. Particularly harsh observers might say that last season was mercifully cut short by knee surgery.

It’s reasonable to worry that Malkin might not be able to bounce back from that injury right away; conventional sports wisdom dictates that athletes struggle in an initial season following similar procedures. Yet the dynamic forward seems invigorated by the involuntary rest he received beginning in February.

Malkin continued his impressive – if inconsequential – preseason by scoring a goal and two assists to help the Penguins earn a 4-1 win in an exhibition game against the Minnesota Wild today. The highlight of Malkin’s night might have been his between-the-legs pass to Pascal Dupuis, who made it 2-0 at the time.

So, the $8.7 million question is: will Malkin be a dominant force again when the games start to matter? There are a few reasons to believe the answer might be “Yes.”

  • His shooting percentage has been a bit below average the last two seasons. Malkin scored on 13.6, 17.3 and 12.1 percent of his shots in his dominant trio of opening campaigns, but connected on only 10.4 in 09-10 and a career-low 8.2 last season. Getting his normal (12.6 career average) amount of bounces could help Malkin fall in the 35-40 goal range – or better – if he stays healthy.
  • If you ask me, Malkin has missed having a decent sniper by his side in Petr Sykora. If Crosby remains injured, Malkin might line up with a legitimate finisher in James Neal, who should be able to take advantage of his sublime passes.
  • Again, merely being well-rested could make a dramatic difference. I get the feeling that Alex Ovechkin has pushed himself too far during the last two off-seasons by playing in summer hockey tournaments immediately following playoff exits. Malkin did the same in 2010, but his injury forced him to get extra R & R in 2011. That could provide subtle benefits for a player who probably doesn’t seem prone to being very open about health issues that bother him.

On the flip side, Malkin might not have stronger teammates next season and his knee could continue to be a problem.

Ultimately, it probably comes down to expectations. It might be too much to ask Malkin to flirt with that lofty 113-point peak – especially since Daniel Sedin was the only player to pass the century mark last season with 104 points – but Malkin should return to at least a point-per-game form if he’s close to 100 percent. For some, that might be enough of a reason to make the Penguins the odds-on favorites to win the Atlantic Divison and maybe even the Stanley Cup – even if his famous partner in crime’s concussion issues continue.

Isles call Strome back up

Ryan Strome, Johnny Boychuk
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Ryan Strome has been called back to the New York Islanders, the club announced this morning.

The 22-year-old returns to the NHL after eight games with AHL Bridgeport Sound. He had been sent there three weeks ago, after a tough start to the season.

Strome had two goals and two assists during his stint with the Tigers.

The Isles’ next game is Friday at Florida.

McLellan on Oilers’ loss to ‘Canes: ‘That’s a really disappointing effort from our hockey club’

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With the addition of Connor McDavid, 2015-16 was supposed to be the year Edmonton showed significant progress on the ice.

We’re less than two months into the season, McDavid’s out because of a broken clavicle, and the so-called progress just hasn’t been there.

On Wednesday, the Oilers hit a new low, as they were handed their fifth loss in their last six games at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins opened the scoring in the first period, but Carolina answered with four unanswered goals by Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm, Jeff Skinner and Andrej Nestrasil to win 4-1.

“We got outcompeted in the second period, badly,” Mark Letestu told the team’s website. “Whether it was little puck battles or even just executing on systems. It played right into their game. When you get behind a team like this that’s so dominant in the circle it’s tough to generate chances to come back. We didn’t deserve to win this one at all.”

As if things weren’t bad enough, the Oilers also lost Nail Yakupov to injury after a linesman (yes, a linesman) fell on top of him.

After the game, head coach Todd McLellan didn’t hold back:

Edmonton collected 14 points in the first 22 games of the 2014-15 season and after the same amount of games this year, they have just one more point.

They’re currently alone in last place.

PHT Morning Skate: What should your team be thankful for?

Henrik Lundqvist
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

No matter how they’re playing, each NHL team has something to be thankful for. (USA Today)

Read an excerpt from former NHLer Patrick O’Sullivan’s book “Breaking Away”. O’Sullivan talks about growing up with an abusive father. (ESPN)

NHL.com takes a look at the 12 biggest surprises at the quarter mark of the season. (NHL.com)

Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Flyers and Islanders:

Mark and Marty Howe do a Q & A with Sports Illustrated’s Sarah Barshop. (Sports Illustrated)

“My goal is to get back into the NHL and I’m working out hard to do that.” Mike Richards speaks to the Waterloo Region Record about waiting for another opportunity. (Waterloo Region Record)

After scoring against the Blues, Sidney Crosby has crossed every team off his hit list.

Patrick Kane’s scoring streak > Sharks’ winning run on Wednesday


SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Patrick Kane had two assists to extend his career-best scoring streak to 17 games, leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night.

Kane set up Brent Seabrook on Chicago’s first goal and also got a helper on Duncan Keith‘s second-period goal to give him 28 points during the streak.

Jonathan Toews and former Shark Andrew Desjardins also scored for Chicago. Andrew Shaw added an empty-netter for the Blackhawks, who improved to 2-1-1 on their annual circus road trip. The six-game swing concludes this weekend with games in Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Corey Crawford made 27 saves.

Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, who returned home from a 6-0 road trip to lose once again at the Shark Tank. San Jose fell to 3-6 at home this season after dropping 22 games here last season – their most since 1996-97. The Sharks had earned the most points at home in the NHL over the previous nine seasons.

Martin Jones made 21 saves.

After a slow start in their first game back from the perfect road trip, the Sharks found their legs late in the first period and tied the game at 1 when Burns scored on a one-timer from Joe Pavelski on the power play. It was San Jose’s first goal at home with the man advantage all season after 21 failed chances.

But the tie lasted just 88 seconds before Ryan Garbutt sprung Toews on a 2-on-1 and the Chicago captain beat Jones with a shot high to the glove side.

The Blackhawks added to the lead midway through the second period when Keith sent what looked like an innocent shot in from the boards only to see it elude Jones to give Chicago a 3-1 lead.

The Blackhawks then killed off two power plays early in the third before Marleau made it a one-goal game when he beat Crawford with a wrist shot off a faceoff win in the offensive zone with 8:40 to play.

Desjardins restored the two-goal lead 1:07 later when he scored his first of the season on a rebound.

Fresh off their annual stop in Las Vegas during their November road trip when the circus is in town, the Blackhawks started fast. They got the first eight shots on goal and took a 1-0 lead midway through the period when Kane set up Seabrook with a one-timer that beat Jones.

San Jose took more than 13 minutes before getting its first shot on goal.

NOTES: The Blackhawks have one regulation loss in their past 10 games against the Sharks. … Dainius Zubrus made his debut with San Jose on the fourth line after signing a contract Tuesday. … Sharks D Justin Braun was scratched with an upper-body injury.