Evgeni Malkin caught a lot of crap around this time last year for his subpar performance in the playoffs. He scored 18 points in his first nine playoff games, but only four in the last 11 and everyone was all, “WHERE’S GENO!?”
This year, you could have said that for maybe six or seven games from the last few against the Flyers (he had seven points in the first three games against Philly and only two in the remaining three) to the first or four against Washington (a so-so 1-2-3 in three and a minus-3). And since then, it’s been really, really bad to be a goalie playing against the Penguins.
Here, now, is a list of things at which, it suddenly occurs to me, Evgeni Malkin is fairly good:
1) Turning it on when he needs to.
Yeah, he didn’t do too well for that little stretch there (only five points in seven games what a bum!) but man it’s been scary pretty much since the Caps backed the Pens down 0-2 in their series.
To wit: In the last 10 playoff games, Malkin has picked up eight goals and 13 assists, including a 0-3-3 night in Pittsburgh’s first home game of these Cup Finals, a 4-2 win during which he earned the primary assist on all three of Pittsburgh’s non-empty net goals.
2) Sending a bullet of a pass through any seam on an incredibly obvious play and still making it work.
Pretty much every time Pittsburgh scored tonight, any idiot could see the seam developing for Malkin to feed a puck through the slot to Max Talbot, Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar, respectively. The puck would come to Malkin, he would work his way along the boards until he was about halfway between the blueline and the endboards, and he would make a perfectly crisp pass to whomever and they would score and tra la la off we go.
A good, new plan for Detroit would be to not let him fiddle around with the puck over there because goddamn he will make you pay. Speaking of which…
3) Running a power play from the halfboards.
You don’t see too many power play quarterbacks that work the puck from the side of the faceoff circle and actually have the PP unit score goals on the next touch. But the Penguins have pretty much done it with deadly efficiency for the entire second half of these playoffs all because of Malkin. Look at the goals by Letang and Gonchar. Who makes that pass so consistently, besides Geno? Nobody? Right.
4) Doing more with less.
And sure, that’s a cliche, but seriously. He logged less than 19 minutes of ice time tonight and somehow walked out of the building with three assists anyway. He also logged less power play time than Bill Guerin.
5) Winning matchups.
Maybe he wasn’t kidding when he said he was sick last Finals, cuz this kid’s unbelievable right now. No one can cover him, and it’s not like he’s matching up against slouches because everyone’s so concerned with Sid Crosby. The guys that split time against Malkin were the Lidstrom-Rafalski and Stuart-Kronwall pairings. Not exactly easy draws.