Evgeni Malkin had a rough season. Injuries, slumps, turnovers, offensive spurts and frustrations took their toll on the 32-year-old Russian superstar. Even though most NHL players would love to have a down year in which they still scored more than a point per game, Malkin was rarely happy with his level of play.
A slump became frustration which became pressing which was paused due to injury in late January. When Malkin returned from injury in February, he began to get on a roll, only to be injured again in mid-March. It’s been that kind of season for Malkin.
“Now you can change everything,” Malkin said. “It is to me a second chance. We have a great team and now I can have to help the team for sure.”
Malkin and his line will have to have a better game than Saturday night. Right winger Phil Kessel had four turnovers and defensive lapses yielded a team-worst four high-danger scoring chances. He and Kessel were each minus-2. The line only got three shots on net, as well.
However, Malkin and Kessel were very good in the playoff-clinching win over Detroit Thursday. Kessel had a couple of goals and the line worked as a cooperative unit.
“I can do better. My line, myself,” Malkin said. “I’m not happy, for sure with my year. I had my injury. I’m a minus-25, but now everything is at zero.”
Malkin began the final game of the regular season at minus-23 but a pair of goals against bottomed him out at the ghastly total.
Throughout his career, Malkin has been a point-per-game performer in the playoffs. Last season, he stumbled to eight points (4g, 4a) but was a minus-7. He of course also won the Conn Smyth Trophy as the playoff MVP in 2009.
This season, Malkin posted 72 points (21g, 51a) in 67 games. The game changed and Malkin struggled to change with it. His ability to handle the puck became an overhandling of the puck and an albatross. The simple plays which beckoned seemed like surrender to one of the games most talented individuals.
His 84 giveaways this season were a career worst. He openly talked of frustration this season. At different points, he also felt optimism, too. The simple game and pushing pucks to open ice rather than slipping through and around defenders have vexed him. His 21 goals were also a career low in seasons in which he played more than 43 games.
The playoffs are beckoning Malkin who is excited about the playoffs. He and Patric Hornqvist who occupies the neighboring locker stall couldn’t help but have some fun with reporters, Saturday.
“We stink. Go–go talk to Sid,” they each laughed.
However, with some fairly easy questions, Malkin became reflective and flashed his trademark honesty. There isn’t a more open or honest player in the NHL than Malkin. Really. He tells you what he thinks, what he’s feeling and he doesn’t worry how it sounds. Through a thick accent with broken English, he speaks volumes even if the words aren’t always right.
As he answered the playoff question and if it offers a new chance for his season, he sat quietly. After a long pause, some head shaking and consideration, Malkin offered his most poignant evaluation.
“If we win the Cup, everyone forgets the regular season. That’s what I think right now,” he asserted.
And that’s the grandest truth. No one remembers Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino were each well underproducing in 2016. They remember H-B-K. No one remembers or cares that Chris Kunitz stumbled to just nine goals in 2017. They remember the one-timer which sneaked past Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson in double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
And no one will care what Evgeni Malkin did in January if there is a parade in June. It’s a lot to erase. But the Stanley Cup holds a lot of names of players who didn’t have a great regular season. Some Penguins included.