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2015-16 Pensburgh Recap: Evgeni Malkin

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Looking back at an interesting season for Evgeni Malkin: who was hot early when the team was cold and then injured late when the team was hot

Pool/Getty Images

Age and Contract Status

Age: Turning 30 (!!!) in 2 weeks (DOB: July 31, 1986). Under contract for six more years at $9.5 million cap hit per season, which lasts until 2022. At that point he will be about to turn 36 years old, and it is way too soon to speculate what his future holds. Maybe then he retires, or goes the Pavel Datsyuk route taking his family back to Russia, or even decides to sign on for another year or two for NHL duty. That's way off in the future, the important thing is that Pittsburgh has him under contract for his age 30-35 seasons in what should be the best remaining years of his playing career.

Preseason Expectations

Coming off a 2014-15 season where Malkin "only" had (by his standards) 70 points in 69 games followed by limping down the NYR series with a wrist injury, Malkin was looking to bounce back to his typical place high atop the league's scoring race. He started the season centering David Perron on his left and Patric Hornqvist on the right-wing but the right quickly shifted to Phil Kessel after the first few games.

2015-16 Stats

Regular season: 57 games played, 27 goals, 31 assists, 58 points, 65 penalty minutes

Playoffs: 23 gp, 6g + 12a, 18p, 18 PIMs

Verdict

Malkin had a most unusual season, in the big picture his points to games played rate was identical to 2014-15 with 1 more point than game, made even worse than last year by playing 12 less games due to injury.

However, digging deeper and breaking it down by month, Malkin got an up arrow in our October Ups and Downs where we called him the team's "best and most consistent forward" after leading the Pens with 10 points in the first 11 games of the rocky start.

In November after a 4-0 loss to NJD on 11/14, Malkin famously said when asked what was wrong about the Penguins offense, "Everything. We don't play right, we don't work hard. I know it’s tough right now. I know we're mad at each other. We need to stop, look in the mirror, and start working. We’re not working." In hindsight, a very dooming quote for the future of Mike Johnston.

Malkin responded with those harsh words by scoring 4 points in the next game, and scored a team-high 12 points on the month, earning another November up arrow.

December saw a 3rd straight up arrow for Malkin, where we said "Geno's been incredibly consistent, and important as other members of the team have struggled" scoring a tied for team-high 12 points in the month along with Crosby.

Malkin got a 4th straight up arrow in January with 11 more points, highlighted by a hat-trick against Vancouver on 1/23 that fueled the team to an exciting win. January ended with the All-Star game where Malkin scored a goal and an assist, but then the trouble started for Geno, just as the team was turning their fortunes around.

On February 2nd it was announced Malkin would miss "at least 2 games" with an undisclosed lower-body injury. That turned into a 25 day absence, he would return to game action on February 27th. However, his regular season was ended on March 11th just 8 games back from the first injury after a fairly routine collision with Columbus's Dalton Prout jacked up his elbow.

Malkin was announced to be out 6-8 weeks but returned in time for Game 2 against the Rangers just after 5 weeks later, in what was a difficult game. Things rebounded after Malkin got a confidence boost in the form of a pep talk from coach Mike Sullivan and Geno was off to the races on another great playoff, including a 2g+2a night for Game 4 vs the Rangers and points in 5 straight games vs. Tampa from Games 3-7.

In the end, quite the roller coaster season for the Penguins other star center. Other than Marc-Andre Fleury, Malkin was by far the team's best player from October - January. Then injuries set in and he lost his spot with Kessel, making for a difficult but still successful spring. Without Malkin's tangible contributions to keep the team in contention early in the season they would have had an even bigger hole to dig out of in the second half of the year when the rest of the players (most notably Crosby and Kris Letang) kicked it into high gear under Sullivan's system.

Future

Luckily, Malkin's immediate future will not include surgery to repair his elbow, which was the procedure that Fehr got done last summer. He should be able to rehab and train and be good to go for the NHL farce known as the World Cup of Hockey in September, where he'll be playing his heart out for a Russia team that on paper doesn't look like a medal candidate.

Moving forward, Malkin's linemate situation with Pittsburgh is very interesting - does the team stick with HBK as a "third" line? If so, that depletes a lot of the skill wingers from playing top-6 roles. If the team reverts to a more traditional  top 6 scorers, bottom six checkers, then Malkin stands to play with 1 of the 2 best RW's on the team in either Kessel or Hornqvist. That would figure to be better for his production, rather than playing with guys like Bryan Rust and Eric Fehr on the RW.

Either way, Malkin's a linchpin of the Penguins second line and should he avoid injuries, he ought to be back to his all-star, premiere point producing self. He'll get his power play opportunities and with natural shuffling should be playing with some decent wingers sooner or later. The Pens have the benefit of being a deep and fast team, so no matter how things shake out, they should be able to surround Malkin with players to give him time and space to create offense. Which he's pretty much proven over the past decade that he can and will do when he's in the lineup.

2015-16 Pens 5v5 Forward Usage Chart

(via Corsica Hockey)

Evgeni Malkin gets the most o-zone starts on the team. This is by design, and frankly maximizes his talent and ability. Malkin's an offensive specialist, and there's nothing wrong with that because he always ends up producing a ton of points by any metric that you can come up with.

Malkin's HERO Chart

(From Own The Puck)

2015-16 Game-by-Game Analysis

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

malkin71416

When he was healthy it was a great season for Malkin, who continues to produce points at a first line rate, while playing on a 2nd line. You don't need to know much more to know why the Penguins win so many games to have the advantage of having such a powerhouse on their "other" scoring line. Pittsburgh has had a natural advantage of the Crosby-Malkin 1-2 punch and that figures to continue next season and more beyond.

Distribution of Teammates and Competition

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

malkin714162

GIFs of the Year

You won't ever find a prettier goal than this one against the Oilers

geno malkin spin goal

Malkin found Kessel here with a sweet, sweet pass for what ended up being the game winning goal back in October.

Phil returns the favor in the Stanley Cup Final in Game 5 with this great pass back to Gene.

There's "puck on a string" and then there's this. Mortal men shouldn't be able to do this, in the above mentioned 4 point game in November against the Wild.

Poor #7 on the Devils.

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Best in the world!

malkin smile face

Close enough

geno big smile

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Feel free to vote in the poll below to rate Evgeni Malkin's season. Vote based on your expectations coming into the season, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.