Frustration. Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had a rough regular season. For months, he was unhappy with his play as he pressed to avoid turnovers and excel as he felt he should. Despite his best wishes, those struggles quickly arose again Friday night and cost the Penguins dearly.
With the game in the balance, Malkin’s stickhandling betrayed him. He attempted to kick the puck to his stick but instead kicked the puck ahead to the New York defenseman. New York transitioned and Jordan Eberle scored the game winning goal and the Penguins raced back to the offensive zone.
“It’s my mistake. I know that. I can play better,” Malkin said. “I’m trying, you know? It’s not like I don’t want the puck.”
The play followed a few scrums and moments of frustration by Malkin as the New York Islanders swarmed the puck. The Penguins have not had time or space and it was wearing on Malkin who took a pair of minor penalties in the first 10 minutes of the game. First, Malkin was whistled for hooking and then high sticking.
Malkin told reporters after the final regular season game, he hoped he could turn the page in the playoffs and he was looking forward to hitting the reset button for a second chance.
Thus far, Malkin has played one strong and one bad game. The Penguins have lost both.
Malkin was engaged several times with New York pest Leo Komarov and both probably should have received penalties. Komarov was clearly unnerving Malkin who played distracted in the first half of the game, then played the same pressing game he did in the regular season.
“I don’t want to say anything about the referees tonight, but there were a couple of penalties I didn’t like,” Malkin said. “Sometimes that happens. It’s a physical game. We can’t worry about the referees or the Islanders. We need to focus on our game.”
At 5v5, Malkin’s line again was the heavy on scoring chances against. While Malkin was on the ice for five scoring chances (a low number by his standards), his line yielded 10 chances which were the worst of the Penguins lines.
“I hope at home we have better ice and I can use my stick,” Malkin said.
The ice is bad at Nassau Coliseum. It is visibly bad as pucks hop over sticks and make passing more difficult. But the New York Islanders have scored seven goals in two games. So it is possible to score.
But like the regular season, Malkin again appeared angry that he could not bend the game to his will. His shots are being gobbled up the goalie who can see them as Malkin struggles to find open space or time to wait for bodies to accumulate in the net.
Not even reunification with Phil Kessel in the second period could launch Malkin.
“Everything was not great tonight. We took so many penalties,” he said. “A couple of turnovers. It wasn’t a great game, we understand.”
It wasn’t a great game. A simple kick to his stick, which Malkin has done thousands of times became a turnover and transition against the Penguins. The emotion Malkin brought to the game was turned against him as Komarov specifically went after Malkin to distract him.
For Malkin, the simple plays head coach Mike Sullivan has implored his entire team to make all season again became complicated plays. Malkin’s line failed to sustain zone time or generate scoring chances.
The Penguins come back attempt will begin Sunday at noon. While technically, they could lose it, a 3-0 series deficit is nearly impossible to overcome and only a few teams in league history have done it.
The Penguins best bet to get back into the series is to play that simple game of pushing the puck ahead to open space. Drive to the net. And clean up the breakouts so the Penguins have some speed out of their own zone.
“They play simple. We need to start to play simple, too. It’s not crazy, we can come back for sure,” Malkin concluded.