Evgeni Malkin has not spoken to the media since Russian dictator Vladimir Putin invaded independent democracy Ukraine. Several years ago, fellow Russian player Alex Ovechkin started a social media campaign #TeamPutin and recently walked back his boisterous support in favor of peace. Malkin was also part of the 2017 Putin push, but the Pittsburgh Penguins center did not voice boisterous support or attach his name to its promotion.
Due to the unstable political environment and past Russian retaliation against athletes, including Artemi Panarin, who criticized Putin, Malkin has been quiet since the invasion.
Officially, PHN would print a Malkin statement but understands the potentially hazardous situation and his reasons for not publicly addressing the matter.
His parents and other family remain in Russia. He has a lot to lose by using the wrong words. Malkin powered the Penguins 11-2 blowout win over the Detroit Red Wings with a hat trick and four points on Sunday.
Also on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan addressed the sticky situation and firmly supported Evgeni Malkin.
“We’ve had an open discussion with Geno with respect to this. He knows that he has the full support of the Pittsburgh Penguins family and we’re all concerned for him. You know, I can’t imagine going through what he’s going through,” Sullivan began.
“He has family living in Russia, a country at war right now in a real difficult circumstance through no fault of his own, quite frankly. And I think a lot of this stuff is bleeding into sports, and knowing Geno the way I know him, he loves being a hockey player. He loves doing what he does, and he loves his family. So for sure, we have a concern for him, and we have had open dialog with him with respect to this.”
You’re free to read between the lines.
The people of Ukraine have pushed back and held off parts of the Russian invasion. It’s been quite a military embarrassment for Russia, which has set an early May date to pull back. However, Russia has also bombarded civilian centers and committed additional atrocities in the meantime.
Sullivan did not directly take a side against Russia and did not specifically say Malkin was against the actions but acknowledged how difficult the situation has been for his Russian star.
Malkin’s wife, Anna Kasterova, is also a Russian celebrity and TV host.
One year ago, New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin, a vocal Putin critic, was forced to take time away from hockey after a party loyalist and former Panarin coach went public with later discredited allegations of sexual assault. The accuser had obvious and suspicious connections to the Putin regime.
Evgeni Malkin has not voiced support for the Russian regime since the #TeamPutin push, and it’s perhaps understandable that he does not speak publicly, potentially putting his family in danger.
“It’s a difficult circumstance for everyone. I think we all feel the same way. I’ll tell you that the dialog that we’ve had with Geno is we want him to know that he has our full support with respect to this circumstance, that he’s part of this Pittsburgh Penguins family. And he’s not only a great person, but he’s also a great teammate,” Sullivan said. “He’s a great Pittsburgh Penguin, and he has our full support, and his teammates’ as well. All of us have expressed our concern for him and his family through a real difficult circumstance to no fault of his own.”
Malkin’s hat trick on Sunday increased his season total to 16 goals in just 30 games. He also has 32 points in that time.
Malkin was to begin his linemate-ship with recently acquired Rickard Rakell on Friday night but missed the game due to illness.
On Sunday, Sullivan finally got Malkin on the ice with Rakell. The connection pushed the Penguins to their biggest win in years, with 11 goals. Malkin had four points, and Rakell had three (1-2-3), including his first Pittsburgh Penguins goal.
“(Rakell) is getting much more familiar with how we’re trying to play. You know, the more familiar he gets, the less thinking he does, the more instinctive he can become. I thought his line playing with Geno and (Bryan Rust) was really good tonight,” said Sullivan. “I felt like they had the puck all night when they were on the ice, and he was a big part of that. I’m glad he scored his first goals (with) the Pittsburgh Penguins. He can get that behind him and just move forward now.”
The 2017 picture of Malkin and Putin remains on Malkin’s Instagram account, however, Malkin deleted all text associated with the picture, and removed the ability to comment.
In the interest of full disclosure, this writer displays a Ukrainian flag on his Twitter account and has donated to causes in support of Ukraine.