Evgeni Malkin is the straw that stirs the drink for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Unfortunately, negativity seems to follow the Russian center after the team refused to publicly acknowledge why their star center missed all of training camp and preseason exhibition games.
The media was left to stir and create their own story.
It all started at the NHL Draft in June.
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford traded winger James Neal, a close friend of Malkin, to Nashville for wingers Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The immediate reaction was Malkin would be unhappy to lose Neal.
During the summer, cute stories were written how Head Coach Mike Johnston was going to Moscow to visit Malkin in order to strike up a relationship and get to know the Russian. Some people started to whisper it was an attempt by the team to pacify Malkin because he was unhappy with the Neal trade.
In August, Mark Madden wrote in a column, "Evgeni Malkin met with new Penguins coach Mike Johnston in Russia, and Malkin was reportedly not impressed." Madden grabbed some attention with that hidden nugget in the Beaver County Times but little was put into considering the source based on him routinely and sometimes unfairly criticizing Malkin.
Then came news Malkin was injured and would miss the start of training camp.
Teammates said they didn't know why Malkin was out. Not a surprise knowing how players, coaches and team officials refuse to acknowledge injuries as if it is top secret national security information.
Some in the media would say Malkin wasn't around, while others would acknowledge seeing him around the arena.
When little to no information is divulged, fans and media dislike a vacuum so things get made up to fit an agenda and sell papers or get ratings.
Then there was the absurdity like Malkin's injury was the result of a golf cart accident or those considered to be in the "Malkin camp" said "he wasn't happy with Johnston."
J.P. Barry, Malkin's agent, denied the implications of some kind of holdout or protest telling me, "He likes Mike. Not true."
Now that Malkin was able to play opening night with Brandon Sutter and Pascal Dupuis, hopefully these accusations of Malkin's character can stop and we can enjoy a stirred drink on the ice.
Penalty Kill Development
If you were worried about the season being over because the Penguins couldn't kill a penalty, relax.
After last night's 3-1 Penguins win at home against the Islanders in which the Penguins killed all six penalties, General Manager Jim Rutherford has time on his side to carefully understand what his players can or cannot do under the guidance of Head Coach Mike Johnston.
Rutherford will have plenty of time to identify the problems on the roster and give Johnston and his staff the opportunity to do what they are paid to do, that's coach a new system, develop relationships, and improve players over the course of the season.
Johnston hasn't had a chance to get the Penguins most physical defensemen, Robert Bortuzzo, into a game due to a lower body injury. As the season develops, I'd expect to see more of Bortuzzo and Simon Despres on the penalty kill than veterans Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin. The veteran duo have struggled to start the season being on the ice for five of the 6 goals scored against the Penguins during the penalty kill.
Prior to last night's game, it didn't help that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was sporting a lousy 67% save percentage while short handed. After stopping all 10 last night, he's up to 79%.
Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet wasn't shy over the last two years saying he knew how to get the most out of the Penguins forwards, especially on the power play. Through four games, you're seeing way more organized play on the man-advantage as the team is putting Chris Kunitz and Hornqvist down low in a position to have one of them crash the net and the other kick out into open space in the middle of the ice to shoot the puck. If Malkin can get his shot back from long range at the right point, it will provide even more room down low for Crosby to make a play.
The Penguins have scored 8 goals on the power play in 17 chances, a 47% conversion rate.
Inside the Numbers
Last season, Craig Adams started 38.2% of his shifts during 5-on-5 in the offensive zone. In the first three games under Johnston, he's started 70% of his shifts during 5-on-5. It will be interesting to watch how Johnston decides to deploy Adams and Zach Sill as he gets to know what the players can or cannot do on the ice.
The even-strength pairing of Kris Letang and Olli Maata might have more to do with playing great defense than what either can do skating or handling the puck. Letang has started just 44.4% of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone, Maatta 51.4%.
Penguins a Hot Ticket
For 30 years, Pittsburgh Penguins hockey has been associated with great talents headlined by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins' brand of hockey has been worth the price of admission because of the stars, the talent around them and how offense was more important than a boring trap game, though we like to ignore the Kevin Constantine years.
NHL ticket prices for 2014-2015 season continue to rise, a decade after the league said it was pricing out the fans and had to lockout the players to get a salary cap and help keep ticket costs down.
According to VividSeats.com's research, Penguins have the 7th most expensive median price per ticket at $159, well below Toronto's top price at $325. The cheapest is in Carolina for $45 per seat and as for the 'why haven't they moved yet" Florida Panthers, they average $66 per ticket.
Leading the traveling road show is Chicago as they the NHL with the largest opponent price increase at 54.5%. The Penguins are second with tickets costing 49.5% more and despite being the defending Stanley Cup Champion, Los Angeles is 8th at 15.1%.
To no one's surprise, the expected worst draws appear to be the Arizona Coyotes -18.3% and Florida Panthers -16.5%.
Rank Home Team Average Median
1 Toronto Maple Leafs $368 $325
2 Chicago Blackhawks $301 $246
3 Montreal Canadiens $231 $200
4 Winnipeg Jets $216 $185
5 Vancouver Canucks $269 $183
6 Boston Bruins $242 $175
7 Pittsburgh Penguins $211 $159
8 New York Rangers $219 $150
9 Minnesota Wild $202 $119
10 Edmonton Oilers $230 $115
11 St. Louis Blues $164 $113
12 Washington Capitals $145 $106
13 Ottawa Senators $171 $105
14 Philadelphia Flyers $156 $100
15 Calgary Flames $176 $100
16 Dallas Stars $127 $99
17 Los Angeles Kings $131 $98
18 New Jersey Devils $121 $92
19 Buffalo Sabres $123 $91
20 San Jose Sharks $137 $85
21 Colorado Avalanche $109 $84
22 Columbus Blue Jackets $97 $82
23 Detroit Red Wings $110 $77
24 Nashville Predators $94 $71
25 Tampa Bay Lightning $121 $69
26 Florida Panthers $94 $66
27 Arizona Coyotes $122 $65
28 New York Islanders $124 $63
29 Anaheim Ducks $87 $63
30 Carolina Hurricanes $86 $45
2014 Median Impact on
Opponent's Home Team Prices
1 Chicago Blackhawks +54.5%
2 Pittsburgh Penguins +49.0%
3 Toronto Maple Leafs +37.8%
4 New York Rangers +36.9%
5 Boston Bruins +33.9%
6 Montreal Canadiens +30.2%
7 Detroit Red Wings +25.8%
8 Los Angeles Kings +15.1%
9 Philadelphia Flyers +10.5%
10 Washington Capitals +5.5%
11 Vancouver Canucks +4.3%
12 Winnipeg Jets +0.7%
13 Minnesota Wild -0.2%
14 St. Louis Blues -0.3%
15 New York Islanders -2.3%
16 Anaheim Ducks -2.9%
17 San Jose Sharks -3.3%
18 Edmonton Oilers -5.7%
19 Colorado Avalanche -6.0%
20 Dallas Stars -6.3%
21 Nashville Predators -6.7%
22 New Jersey Devils -6.8%
23 Calgary Flames -7.5%
24 Buffalo Sabres -8.9%
25 Carolina Hurricanes -9.6%
26 Columbus Blue Jackets -10.2%
27 Ottawa Senators -11.3%
28 Tampa Bay Lightning -14.8%
29 Florida Panthers -16.5%
30 Arizona Coyotes -18.3%