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After Malkin’s Return, Penguins in Flux; Turnovers, Mistakes & Passengers

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Mike Sullivan

They earned points in eight straight before a loss on Sunday but are winless in three games. The juxtaposition of success and concern since Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup could not fit the Pittsburgh Penguins more perfectly. The Penguins looked good enough in the first period, and good in the third period of their 4-3 loss to the LA Kings on Sunday.

Now, don’t be silly, it’s not Malkin’s fault even as Sunday was yet another uneven performance with him in the lineup. He returned on Jan. 11. The team is 7-2-2 since his return but nothing has been easy or looked as good since.

Their power play is beginning to click after a season of languishing in the bottom third.

Their penalty kill has dropped several points after leading the league for most of the first half of the season.

Their lineup is now more talented. Their results are now more inconsistent.

Last week, PHN asked Mike Sullivan about winning without their best. By Sunday, everyone is asking about losing.

“We’ve had moments when we’ve been better, but it hasn’t been consistent. And that’s the game we have to bring–is a consistent game. Right now, it’s just not as consistent. I thought in the second period, in particular, we weren’t as diligent. You know, we had some plays there to make and we didn’t execute,” Sullivan explained. “And as a result, we gave up some transition opportunities for LA. You know, part of it is on the execution side, when the plays are there had to be made, we’ve got to make them. And when they’re not, we can’t get stubborn.”

Oh, the Penguins have been stubborn without exerting a force of will. Stubbornly inconsistent. After weeks of rigid systematic hockey, their game bears little resemblance. The same mistakes have occurred repeatedly over the past few weeks; defensemen getting involved in the offensive zone but the team giving up transition chances (breakaways and two-on-ones), cycling around the offensive zone without getting to the net, and poor puck management.

And, yes, the cultural shift coincided with the arrival of Evgeni Malkin. But it’s not Malkin allowing opponents behind him for breakaways. Or not going to the net.

There are a lot of players not living up to their potential and who are listlessly coasting through large portions of the game.

“We just need guys to step up and take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of them and so that’s part of it. When our team is at its best, we’re getting balanced scoring…And lately, that hasn’t been the case and that makes it that much more challenging to win,” Sullivan said. “Guys are going to get opportunities to have a positive impact on the game. They’ve got to make the most of it. It’s our job as coaches to try and put them in those positions and we’ll do our very best as well to try to help them along the way here. That’s something that I think is obvious that we have to try to correct here.”

Evan Rodrigues is back in the top six. He has two points (0-2-2) in the last 11 games. A goal wouldn’t hurt Zach Aston-Reese, either. Danton Heinen, who was a late scratch due to injury on Sunday, had just two assists in the last six games.

That lack of offense isn’t on Malkin. Kasperi Kapanen remains a ghost.

The Penguins coaches are trying everything to get Kapanen onto the stat sheet. He played fourth-line minutes on Sunday. He had a good first period but was AWOL after that. The fourth line with Dominik Simon, Kapanen, and Brian Boyle had one shift in the final 30 minutes.

Kapanen especially has the ability to be a game-breaker for the Penguins. Instead, he’s become a bench sitter.

“I think it’s that everyone’s just going to work that much harder. I think when you play that kind of game where you play a more simple game–a go to the net game–you’ve got to be ready to take some crosschecks, you’ve got to be ready to take a few bruises in order to get some goals. And I think that’s just got to be our mindset of our team moving forward a little bit.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins had an identity in the first half of the season. Injuries, COVID absences, and more injuries kept the Penguins lineup in constant flux. Yet they raced up the standings from early November through mid-January. They had that identity that Rust indirectly referenced.

In that charge, with a battered roster, they got ugly goals, goals on the rush, and filled the net. The role players filled the role with aplomb. Since Evgeni Malkin hit the ice, only Crosby and his linemates have filled their role consistently. The Penguins game has become soft, mistake-filled, and inconsistent.

It is not Malkin’s fault that a team is losing its way. It’s a mindset, a need for the good stubbornness, not the bad, and a call for others to step forward. There have been a lot of passengers, perhaps relying on Malkin and Crosby just a bit too much.

After Tuesday, the Penguins will have a week to think about it.

So will GM Ron Hextall.

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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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thomas sandstrom
thomas sandstrom
3 months ago

Good article Dan. All-Star break is going to help a lot, I think.

Eric Bouchard
Eric Bouchard
3 months ago

I dont think its “MALKIN’s fault” But he must be help responsable for SO many turnovers. His game never matured in years. PLaying like he’s playing in Junior Hockey. Fancy no look passes even in his Dzone. etc…etc.. Its not totally on Geno that this team plays porely in his Dzone. Since Geno came back He help the PP. Gen looooooves to play on the PP. And in the OZone. But when it comes to play a more responsible game in his DZone…Geno doesnt like it. Not playing that hard. …Glides around the zone without really taking his man. CHeats… Read more »

C Daniel
C Daniel
3 months ago

Losing Teddy is obviously important.

Uros
Uros
3 months ago

Well, that about sums it up. I have nothing to add.

Dave Heyl
Dave Heyl
3 months ago

Play the kids!!!!!

Katz
Katz
3 months ago

Everyone here knows my mantra and feelings on Malkin . If not , again; Mantra: “It’s all and only about the playoffs. After 3 embarrassments in the playoffs , following good regular seasons, for this franchise it’s all about the playoffs. Malkin: Great talent World class skill , but I do not like his game, especially the last 4 playoffs. Horrible defensive decisions. , Tries to thread the needle and resultant giveaways occur at the most important times. The window to move him for assets closed. We all know the story and the Why. Now , Sullivan’s “Shallow Hal” hypnotic… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Katz
Ethan
Ethan
3 months ago

So I guess this is Geno’s team now? Sid the Kid is strapped backwards in the baby seat while Sullivan is gagged in the trunk and we are all just along for the bumpy ride off the cliff, eh! Team rose all the way to first place–then Malkin flung an ill-advised pass–and the wheels came off… Not buying it! This is a team game. (For the record, I’ve never seen #71 work harder off the puck before and he always plays with whatever guys Crosby doesn’t want and still puts up comparable PPGs.

Ethan
Ethan
3 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

You bet I read. I am replying to pervasive tone of “Malkin issue” which keeps popping up in columns and chats (and you must admit despite nuanced approach in article you are capitalizing on this a bit as well). It seems you are taking a correlation not causation approach–I am questioning whether there is even a real correlation. I just think the “team” might just have clawed to top–got home tired and coasted a bit. (Would have been great to insert some of Taxi Squad) If they are flat and sloppy against Caps–then cue my concern!

Katz
Katz
3 months ago
Reply to  Ethan

Ethan with all due respect you should take a macro view. Your “concern” is just about this team relative to First half play. However given the previous 3 playoffs I believe a concern should have preceded this season and wait for the playoffs. It’s ” “Show Me” time for quite a few and not excluding HCMS. They don’t have to win a Stanley Cup but exiting the first Round is my only goal. So , it’s nothingness until the Playoffs , for me at least

Ethan
Ethan
3 months ago
Reply to  Katz

I’ve always heard that everything that follows “with all due respect” is the exact opposite. But your point is fair and I appreciate where your focus lies…mine may be a bit different as I soak up as much hockey as I can over winter and then get shipped out to backcountry come fire season. So I don’t see nearly the playoff action I would like these days but clearly it would be awesome if Guins could hoist one more! Let’s hope they add a few scrap guys, rest a few regulars, and (like Crazy says below and Heyl above) a… Read more »

Crazyhorse87
Crazyhorse87
3 months ago
Reply to  Ethan

You would think they would utilize the taxi squad with such a crammed schedule. The lack of energy, prone to mistakes and then injuries, it’s a recipe for what they’re going through right now.

Deb
Deb
3 months ago
Reply to  Ethan

Totally agree with you!

trackback

[…] They earned points in eight straight before a loss on Sunday but are winless in three games. The juxtaposition of success and concern since Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup could not fit the Pittsburgh Penguins more perfectly. The Penguins looked good enough in the first period, and good in the third period of their 4-3 loss to the LA Kings on Sunday. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

Frank
Frank
3 months ago

It is hard to rationalize that the team is worse with Malkin in the line-up. But at the same time it is self-denial not to acknowledge that it is disruptive when he returns to the line up. So then where does “disruptive” end and “makes the team worse” begin? You would like to think eventually the team adjusts to disruptive and returns to the play that got them a 17 – 2 stretch. Of course that “stretch” is pure fantasy as an expectation. Part of the team funk over the last couple of weeks is nothing more than a confirmation… Read more »

AnthonyB
AnthonyB
3 months ago

I can’t believe nobody sees it. It’s the same thing year after year. The stars are out, the supporting cast plays like stars. The stars come back and everyone coasts.. Geno’s back he’ll win the game for us.. Sid’s back he’ll win the game for us. Yeah maybe inserting some of the kids would bring the hunger back but I don’t think theirs enough of them to make a difference.. Simon is already playing lol

Bob
Bob
3 months ago

Trade him for a a draft pick. Loosen up money for trade deadline.

David
David
3 months ago

Whether you love Geno or don’t love him, one thing is a proven fact: The Penguins can win without him.

Ethan
Ethan
3 months ago
Reply to  David

You mean in 91′ and 92′??? Maybe my math is off but think Geno was 4 or 5 the last time Penguins won a cup without him!

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