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Searching for Evgeni Malkin’s game

Jan 18, 2011, 4:11 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens Getty Images

For new fans or more casual observers of the sport, Sidney Crosby‘s concussion issues might seem like a rare bump in the road for the star and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yet that’s just not the case, as they’ve been down this road before; the team banded together and played winning hockey during the 2007-08 season despite the fact that Crosby missed 29 games mostly thanks to a high ankle sprain.

There was, however, one big difference between then and now: Evgeni Malkin was playing like one of the greatest talents in the NHL around that time, which showed when he scored 47 points during a 26-game stretch without Crosby. While no one will mistake him for a marginal player right now, there’s little doubt that the skilled Russian hasn’t been the same since producing a disappointing 73-point campaign last season.

Before we get into three discussions of Malkin’s issues, I thought I’d provide my two cents on the subject.

No Petr Sykora

Malkin’s big frame and willingness to take on a bunch of defenders can open up a lot of space, but he hasn’t had a finisher since the underrated Sykora’s effectiveness diminished rapidly during the team’s Cup winning run in 08-09.

Skyora’s numbers weren’t especially gaudy, though they were solid. He produced 28 and 25 games skating alongside Malkin, which isn’t outrageously out of sync with his career stats. That being said, his 63-point 07-08 season was his best output since he was a member of a sublime line with Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott at the age of 23.

But more than that, he was a security blanket for the mercurial Malkin; his single-minded finishing skills and reasonable ability to communicate (Sykora is a Czech; Malkin is Russian) made him a valuable linemate for Geno. Now Malkin plays with pluggers and can no longer rely on Sykora or fellow Russian Sergei Gonchar for support.

No rest

Considering the mileage accrued from two SCF runs, another regular season plus playoffs and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, it was somewhat astounding that both Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk decided to participate in the 2010 World Championships in Germany.

Hopefully that gold medal was worth it, because Malkin is struggling and Datsyuk is injured. Is it because they didn’t rest during the summer? Not necessarily, but it couldn’t help matters.

***

Now that we’ve gotten into my theories, let’s look at three other takes on Malkin’s troubles.

The gang at the Pensblog blames his issues on Dan Bylsma’s system, which emphasizes tough forechecking above a finesse-based game and fits in with my Sykora hypothesis to an extent. I agree that the hard-charging style doesn’t suit Malkin, but his power play issues indicate that his game just isn’t right at the moment.

Joel from Black & Blue & Gold writes that the fix is simple: Malkin needs to make his game more dynamic. I have to agree with that big picture analysis; it seems like Malkin and fellow ludicrously talented Russian Alex Ovechkin haven’t evolved much (relatively speaking) since their rookie seasons. Many would (justifiably) argue that they’re incredible as is, but considering the relentless improvement shown by Sidney Crosby, their lack of development in other areas of the game seems a bit stark at times.

Mike Colligan goes a step further, though, wondering if the Penguins should shut down the possibly injured star. This falls in line with the fact that Malkin didn’t take the time he needed to rest up last summer. Colligan points out the fact that the next two weeks could provide an ideal window for Malkin to rest, too.

Rest has done him well in the past, but it’s not easy convincing a tough/stubborn player to head to the press box.  With Crosby also out of the lineup Malkin will want to be on the ice, even at fifty-percent, but Bylsma and his staff need to decide how important a couple of wins in mid-January are to the team’s future.

After tonight’s game against Detroit, the Penguins will play just three games (against New Jersey, Carolina, and NY Islanders) over the next 13 days.  There won’t be a better time this season to sit Malkin down and get him fully healed from whatever ailments are bothering him.

There are plenty of reasons why Malkin isn’t approaching the all-world numbers he once produced. Chances are that he’s suffering from a combination of those issues (and maybe more), but we can only speculate right now.

What do you think the Penguins should do to “fix” their floundering “other” superstar? Let us know in the comments.

  1. psujay - Jan 18, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    I think he just isn’t as hard of a worker as Crosby, so his game hasn’t evolved and the defensemen in the NHL have caught on a bit. Also, those two huge contracts the pens gave out have really hurt their depth, allowing the other teams to focus on Crosby and malkin a lot more than early in their career when they were both producing on entry level contracts. If there were no salary cap and the Pens could sign a top 6 and a top 9 winger to go with their young stars they would produce at a much higher level. If Crosby played on a team with the depth at forward of say, Philadelphia, he’d likely have 100+ assists a year. Instead he’s looking at Mike Comrie as though he might eat him.

    I fully believe that Crosby’s rise as a goal scorer came from frustration after watching sub par wingers fail to bury his perfect feeds, until finally he just thought “screw this, I’ll do it myself.” … and then proceeded to win the Richard.

  2. willcoop - Jan 19, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    Trade him to Chicago to be with Marian Hossa, and between the both of them just maybe you can put one body on the ice. Big contracts = broke bodies and press box time.

  3. clusterpuck - Jan 19, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    First I find it interesting that all the big Russians, Malkin Ovechkin Gonchar Kovalchuk Semin are having horrendous years. Datsyuk was ok until he got hurt. Weird.

    As for Malkin his big contract was signed the year before he went nuts and the Pens won the Cup and he led the league in scoring from start to finish. So I dont think it was contract. He’s just not in it mentally and/or isnt playing with the same drive he used to.

    Pens were up 3-1 last night late and he made god awful turnovers almost leading to goals for Detroit. This happens regularly with him. This tells me he isn’t in the game mentally. He’s also the only Penguin that doesnt play to Bylsma’s system. I’d be willing to bet there are some really pissed off Pens in that locker room because it’s pretty obviouis he doesn;t buy in to the team game most of the time. He does his own thing to much. And it’s not the system holding him back….Crosby was ripping the NHL to pieces playing in that system and Malkin should be doing the same.

  4. jpelle82 - Jan 19, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    pure laziness. you can see it every shift. i’ve played with his type…just kinda floats around the ice waiting for the puck. keeps his head down and tries to plow his way to the net. ovechkin is a one trick pony and the league has figured him out…he is lazy too. Malkin just needs to buy in and submit or find a team that will play around his style. ovechkin needs a trainer…his little between the defender’s legs shot aint working anymore and aint gonna secure a career in this constantly evolving league

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