Alex Galchenyuk put in an extra 45 minutes of practice Sunday afternoon. By the time the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins winger finally arrived in the locker room, Evgeni Malkin had already finished his media availability, worked out and was giving his little boy a tour of the locker room. As PHN lurked for a chat with Galchenyuk, the young Malkin who is the spitting image of his father put on a stickhandling clinic at his father’s locker stall.
The trio had a few words in Russian before the Malkins departed and I asked to chat with Galchenyuk.
“You stood there when I was ready and now when I’m ready to leave you to want two minutes,” he chirped before laughing to reveal the good-natured kidding.
Galchenyuk put in extra time because his season is not off to a good start this season. After a spectacular training camp on a line with Evgeni Malkin, the two sputtered at the start of the regular season, then both were injured for several weeks.
While Malkin has exploded since his return to the lineup, Galchenyuk has been running in place. In 14 games, the Penguins winger has just seven assists, but most distressingly to him is the large zero in the goals column.
“Obviously I want to chip in more offensively. We have such a good team here, I feel like if I get going and put the puck in the net, we’ll be even better,” Galchenyuk admitted. “I think my overall game is getting better but obviously I have to get my offensive game back.”
It’s Galchenyuk’s third team in three seasons. The former third overall pick (2012) of the Montreal Canadiens has had a checkered career. He had offensive highs early in his career despite struggling to find a consistent position. Was he a winger or was he the star center he was drafted to be?
In his third season, he scored 20 goals. In his fourth season, he popped for 30 goals, all the while incurring questions about his defense and his compete level. Then in June 2018, Montreal outbid the Penguins for the services of struggling Arizona Coyotes winger Max Domi. The price Montreal paid was Galchenyuk.
Galchenyuk was eventually a third-line winger with the Arizona Coyotes last season under head coach Rick Tocchet. He struggled in the first half of the season before a two-month hot streak which began in mid-December. Tocchet paired Galchenyuk with newly acquired Jordan Weal and the pair were a hit before Arizona dealt Weal to Montreal in February. Now Galenchenyuk is trying to find his place with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Every season you go through slumps. Like last year, I went through a slump. I didn’t score for 17 games. I still wound up with 19 goals and missed 10 games,” Galchenyuk said before breaking into a slightly self-deprecating laugh. “But this time around it’s harder because you’re trying to get that first goal with the team, right?”
Pittsburgh Penguins Adjustment?
The adjustment period has ended for new Penguins Dominik Kahun, who recently scored his seventh goal of the season, rookie defenseman John Marino has a pair of goals this season and points in four straight games, and Brandon Tanev has won over fans with his rambunctious play.
It’s been a different story for Galchenyuk who is only 25-years-old. He’s tallied seven assists but has not factored into big moments or yet made an impact with his new team. In fact, his 13-minute average ice time is the lowest since his rookie year in 2012-13, and two full minutes less than he played last season. The new team and new system are adjustments for Galchenyuk, but the forward with the heavy wrist shot declined any help to explain his slump.
“We can stand here and speak about that, and all of those things. Obviously they matter, the injuries, the new team and all of that, but I’m not going to stand here and make excuses,” Galchenyuk said seriously. “I said about a week ago or something, that I needed to be better. It’s no surprise I can put the puck in the net and that’s what I’m here for; to make offensive plays and that’s what I’ve been working on.”
It was the first time I had the chance to chat with Galchenyuk one-on-one. I found him to be in good spirits but recognizing the situation is not off to a great start. At 25-years-old, he’s already been through the Montreal pressure, the whirlwind of being traded twice, and now the lowered expectations of lesser duties in a contract year. I also found him to be affable with a sense of humor about the goalless streak, too.
Actually, I found him to be the kind of guy the fans could enjoy as they get to know him, and he lights the lamp more regularly. As a whole, the Penguins locker room is a much better place than it was a year ago. There is more camaraderie, and there are certainly more little kids running around.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan defended Galchenyuk, perhaps from past aspersions, as PHN asked about Galchenyuk and what he may need to do to get over the hump as a Pittsburgh Penguins winger. Sullivan talked at length about his new player.
“I really don’t see frustration. I’m sure if you were to ask Alex there’s probably internal frustrations because he has high expectations of himself,” Sullivan said, and later continued, “I know how much he cares and how much he wants to help this team. So, he’s trying to work through this as best he can to find or capture his very best game.’
“It’s not an issue of effort by any stretch.”