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Malkin Rises to the Challenge, Guentzel ‘Part of the Journey’

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Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins

Evgeni Malkin is again one of the best players in the NHL.

Malkin, with new linemate Jake Guentzel is tearing up the score sheet. Each had three points on Saturday night, and each fed the other. Guentzel has nine goals since the Penguins placed Crosby on IR with a core muscle injury, and Malkin has assisted on seven of them.

Malkin has six goals in that time, and Guentzel has assisted on four of them.

In fact, Guentzel might be a better fit with Evgeni Malkin than Sidney Crosby. Necessity is the mother of invention, and without Crosby’s long term injury, the Pittsburgh Penguins would not have paired Guentzel and Malkin, but now that they have, it just may stick.

“He’s playing at a high caliber pace right now. and it’s fun to be a part of the journey,” Guentzel said. “They way he’s playing, he’s the top player in the game right now.”

Malkin and Guentzel apparently both like velociraptors, Good Housekeeping, and John Stamos (Step Brothers reference). The pair have become dynamic and perhaps even more so than Sidney Crosby and Guentzel.

“I just think they’re two really good players. They’ve got great offensive instincts. They see the ice so well,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “And they just have the ability to adapt to whoever they play with.”

“I think Rust is a great complement to those guys, with the speed he brings to the line. He’s great on the forecheck. He forces turnovers. Those guys have an opportunity to take advantage of it.”

Bryan Rust may be a great complement, but the magic has been between Malkin and Guentzel. This season, Malkin needed to prove to himself and the team that he was still a good player. His play raised enough concern last season that team and player considered parting. Fortunately, the story took a positive turn.

I’m thrilled with “Geno’s” game right now. The offense is obvious, and what he’s doing for us offensively. He’s winning faceoffs now. We’re using him in D-zone situations where we’re relying on him to win faceoffs, and he’s winning faceoffs for us. And he’s playing with instruction,” Sullivan said.

The last sentence from Sullivan is as crucial as any. Last season, Malkin did his own thing. He and Phil Kessel did their own thing, and sometimes even they were doing different things. As the Penguins struggled to pull it all together, they sometimes had different lines playing different games. It was more like a jam session with the musicians not listening to each other, like Phish and Kenny Chesney on the same stage but neither hearing the other.

“He’s always going to be a guy with his instincts, he’s always going to go off the grid a little bit, but that’s what makes him unique. We certainly don’t want to discourage that. We want to encourage him to act on his instincts offensive, but what has impressed our coaching staff is when we don’t have the puck, his play away from the puck has been within the structure and within the team concept. That’s really important for us moving forward. As a result, he’s having success at both ends of the rink,” Sullivan concluded.

We kept the full paragraph intact for emphasis. Sullivan was halting or thinking about his words. He, like everyone else, is watching Malkin this with awe. And more than anyone, Sullivan appreciates that Malkin is now within the team concept instead of an army of one.

Malkin has 26 points (8g, 18a) in just 18 games. More than the point total is the dominance at both ends. Malkin is cleaning up his own zone, distributing the puck, and letting it rip at opposing goalies. It doesn’t take any great analysis. It’s as visible as the tree at Rockefeller Center, whether you want to see it or not.

If it took Sidney Crosby’s injury to re-discover this version of Evgeni Malkin, perhaps there is a silver lining, literally and figuratively.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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