Things went from bad to worse as the slumping Penguins fell down to the 9th spot in the East. They simply couldn’t stop the bleeding. They kept competitive but they just couldn’t find the net with any consistency and the 6 game slide starting in December threatened to be an endless trend as the list of injuries continued to grow. Sure, the Pens were fighting the injury bug all season and were able to pull through it, but it really was just a matter of time before it was bound to catch up with them. Things really started to look, dare I say, hopeless.
During a team skate several days ago, the Pens locker room discussed their situation. They knew where they were in the standings. They knew some of their stars weren’t returning to the lineup any time soon. Simply put, they needed someone to step up. They needed a leader. And that someone has been #71 Evgeni Malkin.
The man has been an absolute beast during the Pens recent 3 game win streak, registering 5 goals, 2 assists, a +6 rating and implementing a fast and physical style of play. He looks eerily similar to the Malkin that won the scoring title just a couple years ago. It seems like a lot of people forgot that he did complete that accomplishment the same year that he won the playoff MVP and contributed so much towards the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. I’m not too sure why it is overlooked, but it really is. This got me wondering, perhaps Malkin is the key to the Penguins success and not Sid. Sure Crosby is an amazing talent. He is a game breaker that can win a game on any given day, but Malkin is capable of doing exactly the same thing, just in a totally different way. Crosby plays with toughness, but finese is really where he seperates himself from the rest of the league. Meanwhile, when Malkin is firing on all cylinders, he plays with a strength that very few scorers have. There is a raw power in his game that makes him dangerous when he is playing with confidence.
So this got me to thinking, who is better at their best? Sid or Geno? Dare I say that Malkin may perhaps better when playing to his full potential?
It’s hard to say really. It’s different styles. It’s starting to remind me of the Lemieux vs. Jagr discussions we all had back in the 1990′s. Both players dominate, but in totally different ways. Lemieux had that uncanny ability to make everything look easy and effortless while Jagr was a master at using his body to protect the puck and could overpower you while still be a threat to out skate you. It’s that Canadian style of hockey vs the Eastern European/Russian style. Which one is really better? I say neither. Its a situational thing. I still take a healthy Crosby simply because he is so consistent with his play. That said, when Malkin is on his game, I can’t imagine anyone in the league being better. If only Malkin can play to his full potential for the duration of an entire season, I think it would be scary to see what kind of numbers he could put up. The only thing really holding him back from being in the conversation for the best in hockey is that lack of consistency. He goes on dry spells where he looks like he is playing with a hangover for a week or two. The effort isn’t there which leads to lackluster play. That doesn’t happen to the big time stars.
Maybe its because when Crosby is playing, Malkin is in stuck in his shadow. He becomes complacent and feels like he doesn’t need to give that same effort. I guess its easy to get caught watching Sid with his highlight reel plays. However, when Crosby goes down, that’s when Geno gets going. The year Crosby missed over a month due to a high ankle sprain after he went awkwardly into the boards, Malkin lit up the league with 47 goals and 106 points. He looked dominate throughout Sid’s absence, and continued that into the following season where he posted equally impressive numbers. He has the talent to be one of the best in the world, but he has to get to the level where he can be that talent every day.
The problem though is that his style of play takes a toll on the body. He will suffer injuries on a pretty regular basis. And when he is injured, he plays like he is injured. Right now, this is the first time I have seen him play with confidence since that knee surgery, so he has me believing he is actually healthy for the first time since early last season.
Earlier this week at practice, the Pens have been wearing “C”s taped on their jersey in support of their injured captain, and for most teams, a player like Sid’s shoes are tough to fill, but in Pittsburgh we are lucky to have a talent like Malkin who can step up and play at an equally impressive level if the captain goes down.