Evgeni Malkin has found his game

Justin K. Aller

Evgeni Malkin has found his game and is suddenly one point behind Sidney Crosby for the season scoring race. Wait, wasn't this player badly slumping no more than two weeks ago? How has Malkin turned it around, or was it always just a matter of getting James Neal back?

Slumps never last forever for the truly talented and skilled, but try saying that in the middle of one and it won’t be received well by anyone. Just as every night eventually yields to dawn and a sunrise, Evgeni Malkin has broken out of his slow production start and, don’t look now, but his 35 points place him in second place league wide, behind teammate Sidney Crosby by just one.

Well that sure didn’t take long, did it.

Malkin suffered through a 15 game goal-less drought from October 19th to November 22nd, the longest of his career. His line was in shambles, with James Neal out until November 9th and just getting up to speed for the next few games. Then, once Neal got five games under his belt, he started to break out and the dynamic pair hasn’t looked back. In the Pens last seven games (starting with the November 20th game in Washington), Neal has 7 goals and 6 assists. Malkin has 4g, 11a in that same span, rocketing him out of the doldrums to number 2 league wide in the scoring.

With the ebbs and flows in a long 82 game season, it’s only natural this upswing will cool at some point too- Neal isn’t going to score a goal per game over a lengthy stretch and Malkin, though dynamite, isn’t going to put up 2+ points per game either.

Regardless of the fluctuations of point producing, if both Malkin and Neal can stay healthy, they’re likely to have successful seasons. For all the questions about Malkin’s game- where everyone from the local weathermen to fans and announcers and even, ahem, your friendly bloggers and commenters at Pensburgh had a litany of reasons, excuses and concerns. He wasn’t shooting enough, he wasn’t driving to the net enough, he was passing too much and seemed to lose confidence. Certainly any number of those things could have been correct.

Was it as simple all along as a healthy James Neal to make Malkin produce?, Malkin has had a revolving door of right-wingers from Chuck Kobasew to Jayson Megna to Beau Bennett to Matt D’Agostini. None meshed particularly well with Malkin’s skill, speed and tempo, which is pretty unique given his skillset (though you could probably excuse the oft-injured Bennett, who never really was clicking at the same time as Malkin). A player like James Neal- who does mesh with Malkin- and has the hands and instinct of a 40 goal scorer, certainly goes a long way to getting #71 back to the scoresheet.

In late October and early November, plenty of times around here we cited Malkin as being one of the best (if not the best) Penguin in many different games. He just wasn’t getting rewarded with goals or his passes to lesser linemates weren’t being converted. With Neal back and on top of his game, that’s no longer the case, and Malkin has regained his confidence and goal scoring touch, as illustrated by the goal he scored on Florida’s Tim Thomas, driving to the net, showing patience, dekeing backhand and putting away a goal made to look so easy.

And that may be one of the biggest joys about watching Evgeni Malkin- he can make it all look so, so easy. Right now, with the worst slump of his career a distant memory, Malkin is showing that there isn’t much of a difference between being stuck in a rut and being dialed into a groove. For Penguins fans, it’s just about watching and enjoying to see what comes next.

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