Evgeni Malkin early season production struggles

Jeff Zelevansky

Can Evgeni Malkin play well without scoring many points? Despite recording 0 goals and 1 assist in the past five games, the Russian center is still playing some good hockey for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The stats say Evgeni Malkin has ten points in 13 games. Good numbers for most, but not for a former scoring champion and MVP.

So when a player is under-performing, the whispers invariably start. Especially it seems like in Malkin’s case. Folks will point out his salary, or his lack of production compared to Sidney Crosby, who rarely seems to go through any kind of slumps. Defenders will quickly point out Malkin’s best linemate, James Neal, hasn’t played but one period of one game all season and that expecting Malkin to produce with the likes of Jussi Jokinen plus a mix of Chuck Kobasew, Matt D’Agostini and Jayson Megna isn’t realisitic.

There’s also the matter of performance beyond production. The Trib’s Josh Yohe tweeted that he thought Malkin was the Penguins best player in the 3-2 win last night against the Bruins, despite the fact that Malkin was held off the scoresheet for the fourth time in the last five games.

To be sure, Malkin has one point (an assist) in the last five games and is goal-less in the last six. That’s not enough production from a player of his caliber, despite the injuries. Still, there are ebbs and flows in every season. In Malkin’s last MVP and scoring championship season in 2011-12, he “only” had 14 points in his first 13 games, before ending up with a 50 goal and 109 point season. We’ve seen slow starts before, and they’re not always indicative of how the player is playing or where he’ll end up.

Malkin may not be piling up points, but as Yohe notes, he actually is playing some good hockey right now. His faceoff percentage for the season (56.8%) is about 10 percentage points higher than his career best for a season (47.5% two seasons ago) and his shooting game is still going- 3 on goal and 2 more fired wide last night, to go with 42 SOG on the year (good for 26th in the league).

Evgeni Malkin is going to be a lightning rod, because he is not Sidney Crosby. Malkin’s not as consistent and that’s not a knock on him, it’s just a fact that no one in the game right now is going to look good while compared to Crosby on each and every shift. But it does come with the territory, and the criticism is going to come with the paycheck. Eventually, once Neal and Beau Bennett return from injury, Malkin will get to play with better skilled wingers, and by no coincidence his even-strength point total will rise. He’s still a very good and very dangerous player, and will be in the future.

Is it fair to blame Evgeni Malkin for not producing points with lesser linemates? Do you think he’s receiving too much criticism for his level of play? Is the answer as simple as “guess we’ll have to wait until Neal returns” or should the Pens attempt to shake something up to get their star center going?

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