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.
Larry Robinson has joined the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues made the announcement Thursday, revealing that Robinson has joined the organization as a senior consultant to hockey operations.
Based on the comments of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, it sounds like Robinson will work closely at times with head coach Mike Yeo. It could also further help the development of an already impressive defenseman in Colton Parayko.
“Bringing someone like Larry in, I just think, helps our hockey operations from top to bottom,” said Armstrong, per the Blues website.
“His ability to talk to Mike Yeo about coaching — that’s one area that we don’t have on our staff is a former head coach. You can think you know what Mike’s going through but I don’t know what Mike’s going through. Larry does. So he’s going to be able to relate to him on a lot of the things that he’s going to go through.
“He’s coming in as a consultant. I can learn a lot from him, our assistant coaches can, Parayko can. There’s not an area of our hockey operations he can’t touch to make us a better group.”
Robinson was most recently the director of player development with the San Jose Sharks, however it was reported in May that he would not return to that organization for this season.
According to reports, there is substantial interest from other teams in Matt Duchene. That said, he remains with the Colorado Avalanche for now and will, it appears, make his preseason debut Thursday against the Dallas Stars.
Earlier this week, Darren Dreger reported on TSN that as many as eight teams have interest in Duchene, with the Senators aggressively pursuing the 26-year-old forward.
According to Mike Chambers of The Denver Post, Duchene will be in the lineup tonight versus the Stars.
Trade speculation has been swirling around Duchene for months now. He reported to training camp last week, and has since said his status with the Avalanche is a “day-by-day” situation.
“I love playing hockey. I want to win,” Duchene told The Denver Post. “That’s the biggest thing on my mind. I’m trying to get better every time I touch the ice right now.”
Tough news for the Montreal Canadiens and prospect defenseman Noah Juulsen on Thursday.
The Habs have announced that the 2015 first-round pick is expected to be sidelined six weeks after suffering a fractured foot on Monday.
The Habs selected Juulsen with the 26th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft following his 52-point regular season with the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League.
This past spring, Juulsen appeared in two playoff games for the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. He turned 20 years old in April and it seemed like the Habs were going to give him a serious look to make the NHL club out of training camp.
“We like the way he skates and his transition game,” said head coach Claude Julien earlier this week, before the injury was revealed. “He’s going to get a chance to make this team and if he doesn’t he’s not going to be too far away.”
Who says players don’t care about preseason hockey?
Matt Puempel and Nick Lappin are trying to earn spots on their respective clubs, so they know they may have to do the little things others aren’t willing to do to stick around in the NHL.
On Wednesday night, that involved dropping the gloves against each other. These two seemed to be in mid-season form when it came to throwing punches.
Neither player is considered a tough guy. Lappin had 17 penalty minutes in 43 games with the Devils last season, while Puempel has 28 penalty minutes in 79 career NHL games.
Here’s the video footage of the scrap:
By the way, the Rangers won 4-3 in overtime.