Let’s talk about Evgeni Malkin for a little bit, because this is one of the weirdest seasons I can recall from a superstar player in a long time.
Overall, the production you would expect from a player of Malkin’s caliber and reputation is mostly there.
The goal scoring is down a little bit, but you know you’re dealing with an elite talent when you see a player with 56 points in 51 games and everyone keeps saying, “what’s wrong with this guy?”
When your down season is still better than 95 percent of the league’s production, you’re probably in a special class of players.
You also clearly noticed a drop in the team’s play when he wasn’t there over the past two weeks.
For all of the criticism his play has taken, he is still riding a five-game point streak an has recorded at least one point in 10 of the past 11 games he has played in. He also had a ridiculously hot start to the season where he had 20 points in his first 11 games and was off to one of the best starts of his career. So there has been a lot of good. There have been flashes of the dominant Evgeni Malkin we are used to seeing.
But there has also been a lot of inexplicable bad play and just a lot of ... weirdness.
- The tell tale sign as to when Malkin is playing at his best is when he is dominating and standing out without the puck. You know what I’m talking about. When he chases an opposing puck-carrier down from behind, rips the puck away from them, and starts the play in the opposite direction. That is when you know he is really feeling it and on top of his game.
We haven’t really seen much of that this season.
- Malkin has always been a high-risk, high-reward player. He seems to have taken that to an extreme level this season. How many times have we seen him be careless with the puck at the top of the offensive zone near the blue line and give it away, leading to odd-man rush (or worse ... a goal) in the other direction?
The minus-17 number stands out like a sore thumb on this team, but it is largely due to the struggles of the power play (which go beyond Malkin) and empty-net situations. Still, when he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play, the Penguins, as of Wednesday morning, have been outscored 36-37. Not a good sign on a team that is actually one of the best 5-on-5 goal-differential teams in the league.
His 3.02 Goals Against/60 mark is the worst among the team’s forwards.
- Then there is the other stuff.
Like the fact he seemingly injured himself in a fight with Steven Stamkos in a blowout win.
Or that his penalty minutes per game is the second highest total of his career.
Or the fact he has already accumulated two Match Penalties this season, the second of which resulted in a one-game suspension for swinging his stick at the head of Micheal Raffl. I know Raffl punched him first, but you can’t react in that way, and he’s probably an inch away from having that suspension (and the result for Raffl) being significantly worse than what it was.
Now it takes him back out of the lineup after he had just returned from an extended absence and played really well in that one game back.
His line with Phil Kessel and Nick Bjugstad was the Penguins’ best in their 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night.
The popular consensus with Malkin right now seems to be that he cares too much, and that he is trying too hard to make an impact. There’s probably a lot of truth to that because Malkin has always been a fierce competitor that knows he can take a game over on any given night. This is also a team that has struggled in the depth department this season and there’s probably even more pressure for him to feel that he has to take on more responsibility and do more. We also know that when that fierce competitor side of him and the “I am going to do this all myself” mindset collide it can lead to the opposite result of what anyone wants.
The last two games we have seen him play (against Tampa Bay and against Philadelphia), I thought I saw signs of the dominant Evgeni Malkin starting to return. The one that can be a positive influence on the team and take over in dominant fashion. Right up until he hurt himself and took himself out of the lineup with a stick swing.
That pretty much sums up the type of weird season he has had.
Brilliance, quickly followed by a giant face palm.
The game-changing Malkin is still in there. We’ve seen it at times this season, and if it comes out when he returns from the suspension on a consistent basis the Penguins are going to have a shot to make a run no matter who they have to play. They just need to see more of that and less of the “other” stuff.