Early in the season to start the 2018-19 campaign, it seemed Evgeni Malkin could do no wrong. Up to Thanksgiving on November 22nd, Malkin was 4th in the league in points - recording 8 goals and 20 assists in 20 games.
He’s played 10 games since then, and it’s gone downhill quickly- especially as you get down to the last eight, five, three contests. Take a peak at his game log (via Yahoo), it’s not a pretty sight to see:
Some of those +/-’s are the result of being on the ice for empty net goals against (like the two last night) and it’s ugly but look past it. The bigger issue is Malkin has only scored one goal in the last nine games, none in four. He has just two assists in the last eight games, none in the last three. He has no power play points in the last nine games.
He’s not shooting the puck much either; in five of the last 10 games Malkin has two or fewer shots on goal. Malkin’s game is always going when he’s firing the puck, and right now it’s bogged down.
Malkin only has three minor penalties though in the last ten game stretch, Ut sure feels like a lot more, as if his usual routine makes him more likely to record a minor penalty for some stick violation than record a point as of late. Geno’s 14 minor penalties do lead the Penguins on the season.
When a star player doesn’t quite look like himself and is struggling or mired in a slump questions always turn to health. Malkin is regularly playing 20+ minutes a night of NHL hockey and even though his game is off, nothing is noticeably wrong with him. Any minor ailment can’t be the reason for his slump, else he’s probably not capable to play as much as he has been in the first place.
A rotation of wingers and lack of secondary scoring probably factors big here too. Malkin’s been separated much as of late from Phil Kessel, though the two stars were back together last night. Malkin’s left winger, Tanner Pearson, has also faded from the scoresheet as of late, with no goals in his last eight games and just one assist over that span.
Injuries to other has hurt Geno - when Patric Hornqvist and Domink Simon went down the first move made was to put Kessel on Sidney Crosby’s line, leaving less skill for #71. The absence of guys like Hornqvist and Simon test the Pens’ depth on lower lines, but it also creates situations where players like Riley Sheahan or the previously ice-cold Bryan Rust have to take shifts with Malkin.
Hornqvist’s absence is always felt on the power play as well, and the unit hasn’t been able to break through much in recent games, which hurts Malkin and the team greatly. Looking back to recent losses against Philadelphia, Ottawa and Chicago this month (all generally bad teams) major turning points and reasons Pittsburgh did not win those games were because the power play couldn’t score. Or worse, gave up a short-handed goal against. That’s a big struggle right now for this team and one Malkin both suffers from and is a major part of.
For coach Mike Sullivan, getting his team and season on track revolve heavily around getting Malkin going. Is the answer Kessel? Or considering moving Pearson away from Malkin for really the first time? Or just hoping the big talented star center can force his way through it? Top, elite skill never stays down forever, as we all know.
It’s never pretty when a star is struggling and going through some difficulties and right now Malkin is mired in a tough spot. Figuring out how to get him going can and surely will be a big piece of the puzzle in order to help the team.