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Insider Only Morning Pens Buzz: Enough with the talk of Malkin still needing time to adjust to smaller rinks

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MORNING PENGUINS BUZZ

A slowly emerging storyline starting to develop is “what’s wrong with Evgeni Malkin.” The NHL’s reigning MVP is 13th in the NHL with 17 points (3 Goals, 14 Assists) and while he’s just a big four or five point night from creeping up on the points race, his game has looked off.
Some have brought up the reason Malkin only has 3 goals on the season is that he’s struggling to adjust to the smaller rinks. That might have been warranted for the first handful of games but we’re now 16 games in and I’ve felt that kind of talk was a little ridiculous from the start. Malkin played four months in the KHL and the last six years in the National Hockey League. It’s not like it’s the other way around where Malkin was playing the last six years on bigger ice surface and now is suddenly playing on a smaller ice surface. It’s not a new thing to him, so I’m not buying that argument.
The eye test says Malkin is not playing with the same type of drive and determination that made him such a dominant force last season. He’s resembled the player of 2009-2010, 2010-2011, than the player from last season. Meanwhile, in Sidney Crosby you’ve seen him have that constant drive that Malkin had last year.
Malkin’s averaging 3.13 shots per game, down from 4.52 shots per game in 2011-2012, and that’s not a huge difference but he’s not getting to the tough areas in the offensive zone.
“I’m not seeing him get to the scoring areas enough,” a talent evaluator said. “Too many loops in his game {right now}.”
SECOND LINE STRUGGLES AT EVEN STRENGTH
The Penguins have 31 five on five goals, ranking 5th in the NHL. They are being carried by the Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis line but when the games start tightening up near the end of the season and into the playoffs, Pittsburgh has to have that second line that can be a consistent factor at even strength if they want to get where they want to go and that’s the Cup Finals. Right now it’s not a huge issue but will become one.
The Penguins rolled the dice going into this season thinking they could just plug anyone on Malkin’s left wing and the constant shuffling of wingers on the left side has been an issue, but Malkin and Neal shouldn’t be able to avoid criticism for their under performing play at even strength on both sides of the ice. I believe Malkin’s lack of scoring is more on him than not having a left winger.
Malkin in 2011-2012 averaged 1 even strength point per game with 75 even strength points in 75 games, ranking first in the NHL and second in NHL with 38 even strength goals. This season Malkin is averaging just 0.44 even strength points per game with 7 even strength points and just 1 goal in 16 games. James Neal by the way has just 5 even strength points.
By comparison, Crosby ranks second in NHL in even strength points with 15, Kunitz ninth with 15 even strength points and Pascal Dupuis is 13th in the NHL with 12 even strength points.
Malkin has also regressed with his focus in the defensive zone.
Last season Evgeni Malkin was 19th in the NHL with a +18 rating. This season he has a minus-20 differential compared to last season with a minus-2 rating in 16 games. Malkin’s minus-2 rating ranks him 314th among forwards. James Neal who has struggled in his own end is 437th among forwards with a minus-6 rating.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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