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Evgeni Malkin: We Need to Understand ‘We’re Not Champions Anymore’



PITTSBURGH — Perhaps it wasn’t meant as a scathing indictment. Perhaps a little bit was lost in translation through Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin’s thick broken English. But he said it. The New York Islanders did all of the things the Penguins used to do, wanted to do, but didn’t do as they swept the Penguins in Round One.

And Malkin admitted it, just as he called himself out before the playoffs. Malkin offered a treasure trove of insights that will feed disgruntled fans

The Penguins promising season came to a crashing thud in disappointment which came so swiftly that it those involved had trouble comprehending it.

The New York Islanders mopped the floor with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We tried to play better every game, but when you score one or zero goals, you start getting frustrated and think too much,” Malkin said. “We had chances to score. Sid [sic] hit a post, the goalie (Lehner) saved a couple of good pucks; it’s a tough loss.”

The Penguins had chances. And so did New York. New York buried theirs and made the Penguins chances more difficult by defending harder, too.

“Next year, we need to understand, young guys–they’re hungry. Every team is trying to win and we’re not champions anymore,” Malkin said. “No one respects our team and everyone wants to beat the Penguins.”

In fairness, given the context of Malkin’s comments, he probably meant no one “fears” the Penguins anymore, which is true. The New York Islanders had a plan to beat the Penguins. New York didn’t waver or panic. They went right at the Penguins.

And they went harder at the Penguins when the Penguins had momentum. New York punched the veterans in the mouth.

“They were hungry and they wanted a little bit more to win,” Malkin said while shaking his head. “They were blocking shots, they forechecked, backchecked, they looked like they wanted it more.”

The Penguins outshot New York in the series but spit the offensive chances and dominated with nearly 73% of the high-danger scoring chances. The Penguins had to fight harder to get to the net. Stay patient to keep New York off the scoreboard and play a simple game.

The Penguins failed. But when Malkin was asked to expound on his comments, he walked back some of them but poured even more gas on the fire, too.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not trying or not hungry. I mean, if a team wins four-nothing they’re the better team,” Malkin said. “They played better. Maybe their system is a little bit better. I don’t know, maybe their players are a little bit better. We played a team that was better.”

In the moments following a humbling loss, some blunt talk can be forgiven. It is, however, an interesting situation to watch as Malkin said maybe their system is a little bit better. It was head coach Mike Sullivan who told the Penguins they needed “buy-in” after the All-Star break. When PHN questioned Sullivan a couple of weeks later about the comments and if players were buying in, Sullivan bristled.

“I’m not going to point fingers,” he briskly said at the time.

In the interest of balance and fairness, Malkin’s comments could also be interpreted as disappointment and frustration in a tough moment. His English doesn’t flow smoothly. Perhaps he was offering praise, in a dejected way.

He could also be tossing shade to the Penguins changing identity and a system with which he didn’t agree.

I don’t know the answer.

This season, Malkin struggled with the changing game. Long goal droughts and spotty play frustrated even him. And yet he still scored 72 points (21g, 51a) in 68 games.

However you choose to view it, the Penguins have a lot of soul searching to do and a lot of questions for next season. A couple of players including Garrett Wilson and Matt Murray sat in their locker stalls, still mostly dressed in their uniform, coming to grips with the end.

That end may be more than just this season. Asked if sweeping changes were needed, Malkin offered, “I don’t know, you can’t change the whole team. You can’t change 10 players.”

He was visibly befuddled by the enormity of the thoughts which entered his mind. He stumbled for several seconds and fidgeted around.

Malkin didn’t know the answer, either.

A lot of questions, indeed.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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