Evgeni Malkin is struggling. By his standards, anyway.
The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has not scored an even strength goal in 17 games and has “just” 10 goals this season. He’s still a point-per-game player with 33 thus far, which makes it kind of weird to talk about a player “struggling.”
Yet here we are.
The scuttlebutt is that the Russian has been slipping a little. Part of that may be due to waning shot totals. He has just 71. To put that in perspective, in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 he was at 99 shots on goal with 31 games in the abbreviated books. That said, this season his 10 goals are one more than that season’s total.
We can go around and around.
To wit, Malkin is currently a minus-11 player. That dwarfs his worst plus-minus numbers to date, but a big part of that was a miserable showing against Chicago on December 12. Last night against Boston, he rattled off an assist, managed two shots on goal, skated nearly 15 and a half minutes, and finished even in plus-minus.
There are, maybe, clarifications. Even answers.
“Geno tends to be a streaky guy, and sometimes all it takes is one goal and then he’s off to building momentum again,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think part of it is just simplifying his whole overall game. If he does that, he’s going to be fine.”
Indeed, the simplification argument holds weight. Since he’s not shooting the puck as much, it could be that Malkin is squeezing the stick and starting to doubt the bounces. Sullivan thinks he may be overthinking things, looking ahead too much.
The Penguins are two points out of a playoff spot and could use all hands on deck at this point, but they aren’t in panic mode either. That should help give Malkin the room he requires to get himself going again.
After knocking off Boston 5-4 Friday, Pittsburgh is 14-11-6 and third in the Metropolitan. Everyone expects them to pick up the pace and carry on the tradition of making the post-season and challenging for the Cup.
But you have to imagine that Malkin’s struggles, despite the brave face displayed by teammates and coaching staff, may be disconcerting at least on some level. Patience is a virtue, to be certain, but something has to get the Magnitogorsk native back in the swing of things.