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Penguins’ Malkin Gets Honest: I Know I’m Not Flying Like Before

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Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Perhaps Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin isn’t as stubborn or as blind to his level of play as some critics believe. And there are many critics – just take a stroll through social media.

Malkin, affectionately known as “Geno” throughout a stellar NHL career that is in its 18th season, is well aware that he is 37 and that he is not the same player as he was during the Penguins’ three Stanley Cup runs he helped take them on.

“Every game I try my best,” Malkin said Tuesday after practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in one of his heart-on-his-sleeve sessions with reporters.

“I’m not playing like 15 years ago. It’s not the same game. I want to try to change a little bit. I know I’m not flying like before. I try (to be) a little bit smart(er) in my game.”

Malkin was a full participant at practice after taking his second maintenance day in a week on Monday. Tuesday was the eve of an important matchup against the Florida Panthers. He was adamant that he is fine.

“Nothing wrong. I skated today with the team. I’ll play tomorrow. I’m ready to play,” he said. “Again, everything is good. Nothing hurts. I mean, no worry.”

Malkin has had good and bad stretches this season. He ranks third on the team with 41 points, including 16 goals, but there is little question he has been a lightning rod for criticism at times from those who think he has become too slow or vainly tries to be the dominant player and skater he used to be with less than positive results.

If you don’t believe that Evgeni Malkin has at least been trying to adjust, just ask Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who has been working with the long-time second-line center on just that.

“We have seen Geno try and make adjustments to his game, and I think there have been moments when he’s really good at it,” Sullivan said. “That’s a conversation that him and I have had over the last little while.

“He’s still an elite player in this league. He still has the ability to drive a lot of offense, and we certainly want him to continue that aspect. But he’s played a lot of games in this league. He has a lot of experience. I think it’s important that he use that experience to play a more efficient game and make it easier on himself.

“A lot of that is just understanding what the scheme is and working collectively with the four other guys on the ice so that there’s collective effort and he’s not just taking the puck and doing his thing as a one-man band. He’s capable of that at times, but I think he’s also capable of playing within the framework of the team concept.”

Sullivan seems to grasp what happens to players, including elite players, as they age – even if Malkin’s fellow long-time fellow franchise players Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, both 36, seem to be defying that process better than Malkin.

“My experience of working with players that go through this process is that these guys acknowledge and understand (it),” Sullivans said. “They’re highly intelligent hockey players. Part of it is just the evolution of a player. Our job as coaches is to try to help them through that process and set them up for success.

“We’re not asking any one of our players to reinvent themselves. I don’t think that’s what would set us up for success. The reality is, these guys can still play at an elite level. … There needs to be adjustments to their respective game so that we can continue to set them up for success.”

Malkin acknowledged that the top line of Jake Guentzel, Crosby (the top two scores on the club) and Bryan Rust are carrying the team.

“The first line plays unbelievable. We need to support them and help the team to win,” Malkin said. “My line, I try to do my best and help the team to win.”

And not just win, but make the playoff after missing them last season.

The Penguins sit in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division with 53 points, seven points out of a wildcard spot with 33 games left. There are three teams between them and one of those wildcard spots.

“We still have chances. The season is not over yet,” Malkin said. “Thirty games left. If we win most games, it’s a good chance to make the playoffs. Now we focus (on) every game. Focus (on) tomorrow. It’s two points tomorrow. Huge game against great team.

“We believe (in) this group. We believe we (will) make (the) playoffs. I believe (in) myself. I believe (in) my teammates. It’s a tough season for sure. We’re not happy where we’re at, but, again, we still have a chance. Thirty games left, I mean, it’s 60 points.”

Malkin doesn’t speak publicly all that often. He can be refreshingly or frustratingly blunt, depending on your perspective and the topic.

“The one thing I really love about Geno is his authenticity,” Sullivan said. “He’s pretty sincere with his comments. It’s not lip service. He’s sincere with his comments. That’s been my experience with Geno. He tells you want he thinks.

“I’ve been on both sides of that, and so I love his sincerity and I love the fact that he believes in this group because I believe in this group. And our coaching staff believes in this group. And our general manager believes in this group.

“We understand that we’re not where we need to be, and we have a lot of work in front of us. We’ve got to be up to the task. … We’ve got to get excited about that challenge.”

It sounds as if Malkin, if nothing else, is on board with that challenge.

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Rich81
Rich81
9 days ago

Until they bring in a good 2nd line center (Middlestat cough cough), they will never maximize his last years. Has to move to wing.

Mark
Mark
8 days ago
Reply to  Rich81

Not sure that he should even be on second line. Issue is there is no one to put on second line. As far as his last years this should be his last year.

Uros
Uros
8 days ago
Reply to  Mark

Great, tell me who should be on the 2nd line? Some imaginary player from an imaginary trade that’s better than Malkin, as nobody on this team is below the 1st line?

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
8 days ago
Reply to  Uros

I agree, He is still producing well enough to play 2nd line.

Mark
Mark
6 days ago
Reply to  Uros

As I stated there is not a good replacement on the team. However, your thought has merit. Trade Malkin for a younger player(s) and/or draft picks and let’s see what Dubas can do. With one goal in the last ten games and almost 50 penalty minutes it seems that it is time for change.

Last edited 6 days ago by Mark
Eri
Eri
8 days ago
Reply to  Rich81

Not sure why this is not being taken more seriously, but trading for a younger, NHL ready 2nd line Center would relieve Malkin of some defensive responsibilities and allow him to move to 2nd line Wing and focus on getting puck on net. Perhaps it would also convince him to play more net front. Additionally, this serves the future of the Pens organization. Malkin is still a great player, a fan favorite, and wants to win – he’s committed to help the team. Since Lindholm is out of the running, Dubas should be picking up the phone and inquiring about… Read more »

charmaine dawso
charmaine dawso
9 days ago

love Geno and this story…..

wesman33
wesman33
9 days ago

Geno’s play hasn’t been a fraction of how bad the media and the Malkin haters make it out to be. He’s on pace for 20+ goals and 70 points and is a plus player. A lot of teams would be quite content and successful with that

Eric
Eric
9 days ago
Reply to  wesman33

sorry, but I totally disagree. I highly doubt he will make 20 goals this year. Gino has been allowed to play rogue on this team for too many years. He just can’t do what he wants did and now he can’t play within the structure that Sullivan wants him to play. he gives the puck away. He takes bad penalties. He is a far cry from what he used to be. He is now a liability and just taking up space. You really need to rewatch the last two games. He had one shot on goal and was a non-factor… Read more »

Last edited 9 days ago by Eric
egl
egl
8 days ago
Reply to  Eric

In his last five games he’s had 13 shots on goal. In the last five games, his faceoff win percentage is 44.4%. He was solely responsible for Smith’s goal in the Wild game and was notably sound defensively all night (to the point where Wild beat reporters were commenting on how effective he was). As recently as last week he was top five in the league for takeaways. He’s at 16 goals on the season and you don’t even think he’ll break 20? He’s also very obviously injured right now—two maintenance days right after a long break is clearly code… Read more »

Steve
Steve
8 days ago

My favorite player since Mario. But, it’s time.

Matthew Caddy
Matthew Caddy
8 days ago

Let’s face it. He’s done. Geno was one of my favorite players of this era but the time has come. He will always be a Penguins legend but father time is undefeated.

Uros
Uros
8 days ago

Nice story and kudos to Malkin for being sincere. Unfortunately, as you will see from the comments, the Earth is flat and Malkin is a bad, old player, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
8 days ago
Reply to  Uros

Haters gonna hate. Whether its dubas, malkin, karlsson, jarry, sullivan or anyone else. It’s like talking to a wall. Don’t waste your breath lol

Pete
Pete
8 days ago

Absolutely. Stay with Sullivan and Malkin and continue to lose. Great plan.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
8 days ago
Reply to  Pete

Point being, people pick one person to put blame on. Its a team game. Win as a team, lose as a team. The whole team has to figure out how to play and execute!

Sorry, that may be too over your head, but its the best that i can explain it.

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
8 days ago

I’m not the player I was 15 years ago.Gee, thanks for that info Captain Obvious.

I still believe Geno can be a major contributor to the team if he’s willing to change his game and adapt to his limitations. His hockey smarts and puck distribution skills are elite level.