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Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin facing big year

Evgeni Malkin has seemingly made it through another summer of trade speculation to remain a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rumors about his future and whether the team could, would, or even should trade him is nothing new. It is a yearly occurrence and no matter how many times the idea is floated out there he always ends up staying right where he is for the obvious reasons — he is an all-time great player and it would be almost impossible to get better by trading him.

Still, the smoke around a potential trade seemed to be a little more intense this summer and for once it actually seemed like it might even be a possibility. The Penguins were coming off of a disappointing season and looking to shake things up, he turned 33 on Wednesday, and after an uncharacteristically off year general manager Jim Rutherford repeatedly declined to guarantee that Malkin would be a part of the team in the future.

There may very well come a point where the Penguins have to consider moving on or even making a trade because Father Time eventually catches everyone. Malkin will be 36 when his next contract begins, and there are not a lot of elite, high-end players still in the league at that age. They are not at that point just yet, and with the Penguins still trying to maximize the Malkin-Sidney Crosby era with another championship it still makes all the sense in the world to keep them together and build around them.

This is still going to be a huge year for Malkin because they need him to bounce back. And yes, there is something to bounce back from.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

While the final stat line offensively was right in line with what you might expect from Malkin at the end of the season (72 points in 68 games) there were still some issues throughout the season. Among them…

• It was a tough year defensively for Malkin, and while the minus-25 mark is a little misleading (a lot of that was due to empty-net situations) the Penguins still were not quite as dominant as they have been in the past with him on the ice. They were still outscored (44-46) with him on the ice at 5-on-5 while the shot attempt and scoring chance differentials were not great.

• He also cooled off considerably after the first part of the season offensively. He began the season with 20 points in his first 11 games, which was one of the best starts of his career offensively. After that? It was just 52 points in 57 games, and while that is great production for 95 percent of the players in the league it is not what the Penguins want or need for $9.5 million, especially when combined with the defensive struggles.

None of this is to suggest he was the biggest problem for the 2018-19 Penguins, or that it should have pushed them to consider a trade. Just that he can better. And if the Penguins are going to get back closer to Stanley Cup contender status in 2019-20 they are going to need him to be.

For one, the Penguins’ depth is still not quite what it was during their Cup winning years in 2015-16 and 2016-17, putting more pressure on the top lines to carry a significant part of the offense. They also traded one of their impact players this summer when they dealt Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk. That drop in offense will need to be made up somewhere.

When Malkin is on top of his game and playing with confidence he can still be one of the top players in the world, and the Penguins saw that at times last season. It was just not as often as they are used to seeing it. He is a proud, driven, and ultra-competitive player and is no doubt going to be entering this season with something to prove. And a driven and motivated Malkin could be a game-changer for a Penguins team that still has some flaws elsewhere on the roster.

The Penguins were in a similar situation at the start of last season when they had to bet on a big rebound year from defenseman Kris Letang. At a time when there were calls to consider moving him, or concerns that his career was starting to fall apart after another year of significant injuries, the Penguins bet big he still had elite years ahead of him because of the track record. He proved that he still did and the Penguins were far better for having him on the roster.

The same thing applies to Malkin this season. The ability and talent is still very much there, and it is a good bet he still has another big year (or two) in him.

MORE:
Cap crunch: Rangers, Penguins, Flames among teams that need moves
Penguins sign coach Mike Sullivan to four-year contract extension

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Looking back at the Blackhawks’ Scott Foster game

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take an occasional look back at some notable “this day in hockey history” moments. Today, Scott Foster gets to play a game for the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Before there was David Ayres with the Carolina Hurricanes, there was Scott Foster with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It was two years ago Sunday that Foster, an accountant by day, was forced into action as the emergency goalie against the Winnipeg Jets.

He stopped all seven shots he faced in 14 minutes of ice-time to help the Blackhawks hold on for a 6-2 win. You can see the highlights of his performance in the video above.

At the time of Foster’s appearance the entire thing was pretty unheard of because the NHL hadn’t really seen an appearance like this — a non-professional player forced into a game — in the modern era.

It all happened because of a series of goaltending injuries that left the Blackhawks shorthanded at the position. Chicago signed Foster to an amateur tryout contract the night before the game due to injuries to Corey Crawford and Anton Forsberg. He was supposed to serve as the backup to rookie Collin Delia as he made his NHL debut. Everything was going as planned until Delia was also injured early in the the third period, forcing Foster into the game.

His performance earned him No. 1 star honors for the game.

Because the Blackhawks were already comfortably ahead when he entered the game he did not get credit for the win. It was probably the biggest highlight of the season for the Blackhawks as they missed the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

At the time Foster’s appearance and performance was mostly celebrated and treated as the feel-good story that it was.

But when Ayres had to enter a game for the Hurricanes this season — and ended up being the winning goalie against the Toronto Maple Leafs — there was a very vocal minority that thought it was an embarrassment for the league and that, maybe, the emergency goalie protocol needed to be changed. It was eventually decided that no change needed to be made. Even with two instances in the past couple of years it is still a very rare occurrence that needs a very specific set of circumstances to actually happen.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Olympic hockey on NBC: 2018 women’s gold medal game

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Hockey Week in America continues Sunday with the unforgettable Olympic women’s gold medal game in 2018.

NBC will present the women’s gold medal game at the 2018 Olympics between Team USA and Canada, won by the Americans in a 3-2 shootout in PyeongChang. With the victory, the women’s ice hockey team claimed its second ever Olympic gold medal and ended the Canadians streak of four straight gold medals.

Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko and Pierre McGuire called the gold medal game in PyeongChang.

You can catch a replay of the 2018 women’s Olympics gold medal game Sunday on NBC at 1 p.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SUNDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Maple Leafs vs. Bruins (Game 7, Round 1, 2013 playoffs) – 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN
• Golden Knights vs. Sharks (Game 7, Round 1, 2019 playoffs) – 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN
• Kings vs. Blackhawks (Game 7, Western Conference Final, 2014 playoffs) – 12 a.m. ET on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

Capitals vs. Penguins on NBCSN: Kuznetsov’s overtime series clincher

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Hockey Week in America continues Saturday with memorable playoff performances in the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry.

In 2018, the Capitals and Penguins met in Round 2 for the third straight postseason. Pittsburgh won the previous two series en route to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. But this time Washington would have its revenge. Evgeny Kuznetsov would score in overtime of Game 6 to help the Capitals advance as they went on to win their first championship in franchise history.

You can catch Game 6 of the 2018 Penguins vs. Capitals playoff game Saturday night on NBCSN beginning at 12:30 a.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SATURDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2018 playoffs) – 12:30 a.m. on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

Capitals vs. Penguins on NBCSN: Bonino Bonino Bonino!

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Hockey Week in America continues Saturday with memorable playoff performances in the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry.

The Capitals needed a win to force Game 7 in Round 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Facing the Penguins yet again, the clawed back from a 3-1 third period deficit to force overtime. It was there, however, that Pittsburgh once again topped their Metro Division rivals. This time it was Nick Bonino breaking their hearts to put the Penguins on a path to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup title.

You can catch Game 6 of the 2016 Penguins vs. Capitals playoff game Saturday on NBCSN beginning at 10 p.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SATURDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2016 playoffs) – 10 p.m. on NBCSN
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2018 playoffs) – 12:30 a.m. on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.