TEMPE, Ariz. — Pittsburgh Penguins fans were not happy with Evgeni Malkin after the star center was in the middle of the Penguins third period disaster and a 3-2 come-from-ahead loss against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday.
Like you, Malkin wasn’t happy with his game either.
“It was a tough loss, a not-great third period. It wasn’t my best game,” said Malkin. “It’s a new day, a new practice. We had a good meeting today and practice. My focus is on tomorrow and the next game.”
Points have not been Malkin’s issue this season. Even on Saturday, when his game melted like an ice cube in the desert, Malkin had an assist on the Penguins’ first goal. He has six points in his last eight games and 37 points in 44 games. Malkin has also been on the ice for as many goals-for as he’s seen goals against.
On paper, Malkin is having a fine season.
But it was Malkin whose defensive mistakes directly led to two of three Vegas third period goals.
Neither the Penguins’ coach nor the player would praise his play over the last month or so.
“He’s such an important player for us and so talented offensively. Some of the inconsistencies in his game are more without the puck and trying to do too much,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think he’s trying to do too much instead of just doing his job and allowing his teammates to do their s… Sometimes, he tries to take it upon himself, and when he tries to do too much, that’s when we get caught in between.”
Malkin’s linemate Reilly Smith went ice-cold before suffering an upper-body injury last week. Smith had two goals in his last 30 games. New linemate Drew O’Connor has continued his progression from low-minutes grinder to middle-six forward with increasing scoring potential.
But the Malkin line remains an enigma, not quite pulling the same weight as top-line center Sidney Crosby and struggling to consistently make an impact. He has just one goal in the last nine games.
“I know he’s a well-intentioned guy. I think the most important thing in our message to him has been, ‘Don’t try to do too much. Just do your job.’ And and when he does that, I think he’s a very effective tool for us,” Sullivan said. Uh. “I think he has elite offensive ability. And he shows that when those opportunities present themselves. I think (with) just a little bit more diligence with his play away from the puck (that) will help us.”
The interesting thing about Malkin is that he never sugarcoats or spins the answer. You may not agree, or he may not be right, but he’ll tell you what he thinks.
Neither he nor Sullivan mentioned age, though Malkin is 37. Time does have a sneaky way of taking and not giving. Malkin’s customary gallop through center ice has been decreasingly present, and his power play work is part of the unit, converting just over 13%.
“(My game) has been up and down. One game is good, like when I played in Philadelphia. Yesterday wasn’t good,” Malkin said. “I need to play better in every game. I want to stay at the same level every game, not like one game good, three games bad. I’m trying my best. I don’t feel great after last night. I rested today, and we’ll see what’s going on tomorrow.”
Malkin had a goal and an assist with four shots against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 8.
He spoke candidly in the locker room after practice at Mullett Arena on Sunday.