In watching the Pittsburgh Penguins face off against the Vancouver Canucks and getting decidedly trounced for their efforts, I started to wonder about Evgeni Malkin. He wasn’t much of an offensive force, despite scoring a goal, and his dangerous hit on Willie Mitchell left me thinking that something must be eating the sniper.
Sure enough, Malkin finds himself mired in a pretty significant slump. He ranks in the 20s in the scoring race and is producing at a lower rate than his rookie campaign. Malkin, before his goal against Vancouver, hadn’t scored since a pre-Christmas hat trick. A recent four-game stretch saw him go an embarrassing minus-8.
“It’s a tough situation but I’m learn now,” said Malkin to the media scrum in Vancouver without the use of a translator. “I’m learn it’s two tough years we play finals. Different situation now. Not scoring now and a little bit nervous now but it’s team game. Coaches help me and we sit and look video and my shifts. It’s tough but head up, not stop and work in practice. I’m playing little bit better.”
In about a month, Malkin will suit up for Russia at the Olympics. He noted that he’s looking forward to playing with his friends, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, at the tournament. And he went out of his way to ensure that he wouldn’t be calling his teammate and pal Sidney Crosby a “friend” when the puck drops for the Games. “No, no, not in Olympics,” chuckled Malkin. “Of course, still here but not in Olympics.”
Still, one has to wonder what’s going on in Malkin’s world. Poolies would have considered him a sure thing to produce points in the top portion of the league’s scoring race and few would have predicted that Malkin would sit 23rd in league scoring prior to Saturday’s game.
Malkin will make $9 million this year alone in Pittsburgh and is in the first year of a five-year $43.5 million contract.
Some are suggesting that Malkin’s lack of suitable linemates could be part of the problem for his lower production. Playing with Jordan Staal and Luca Caputi appears to have provided Malkin with some options, but not enough to really boost the forward to the scoring pace he should be hitting.
There is also Malkin’s shoulder to consider. He missed a couple of weeks due to shoulder trouble at the beginning of November and came back to the game before the injury had completely healed. Perhaps not taking a full 21 days to get things right hurt Malkin’s chances at putting the puck in the net.
Regardless of the reasoning, it’s no secret that Malkin is experiencing some difficulty in Pittsburgh. It may well be a passing issue, with the Olympics giving him a boost and the playoff rush providing him with more motivation to get his ducks in a row. Even so, it’ll be interesting to see how he approaches the finish line on the season and how poolies respond to his lack of production.
Posted by Jordan Richardson.