Tag Archives: Evgeni Malkin

Malkin the Sure Fire Conn Smythe Winner

In Wednesday night’s home game Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin rocketed a wrister over Pekka Rinne’s glove hand and ultimately chased the netminder. That goal was Malkin’s ninth of these playoffs and honestly his flashiest.

No doubt we have all seen Malkin score some incredible highlight reel goals. For example a no-look-top shelf-spin-o-rama-backhand or razzle dazzled forehand-backhand while falling down. But that’s not something we’ve seen from the Penguins assistant captain this post season. What we have seen is Malkin quietly rack up 26 points in 23 games as the playoffs scoring leader. Quietly the Penguins’ center has made his case for the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP, should the Penguins closeout the Predators with two more wins.

Malkin has mostly been playing with Phil Kessel on his wing. While the other side, has been a revolving door of wingers (Kunitz, Wilson, Guentzel, Hornqvist, Rust). Phil Kessel has only seven goals while Kunitz, Wilson, Hornqvist, and Rust have only combined for 12 goals. Guentzel only being on his wing briefly also has very few points while playing alongside Malkin. This poses the question, where is Evgeni Malkin getting all of these points? Fact is Malkin’s dominance in all three zones has made whoever is on the ice with him better.

Is Malkin the top choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy, should the Penguins win? The answer is absolutely! When Crosby was dealing with concussion symptoms during the Washington series, Malkin stepped up as he always does. While only producing one assist on the game winning goal, Malkin played 20+ hard minutes and winning 76% of his faceoffs. On top of that he dominated in the puck possession game. Malkin put the team on his back as did the other locker room leader, and if he was still playing, a close second Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, Marc-Andre Fluery.

But again, this scenario only works if the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. For that to happen, Malkin will have to elevate his game once again, unlike games three and four.

(Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports)

Malkin Completely Contained in Nashville

The Pittsburgh Penguins only scored two goals in their two previous games in Nashville. while Malkin did not factor in on any of those goals. Even worse, Malkin was a -3 with three shots on goal in two games, while winning an average of just over 39% of the faceoffs. When compared to the rest of his playoff stats, it is clear that Evgeni Malkin is an important factor in this series, for the Penguins to repeat as champions. The Penguins have had a few days rest and Malkin did not partake in Thursday’s optional morning skate. This will hopefully give Malkin the energy he needs to help give the Penguins a 3-2 series lead.

Malkin Makes Promise and Delivers

Evgeni Malkin told the media days before game five that Phil Kessel would score. He also exclaimed the he and his teammates would play better than their performance in Nashville. Malkin either has a crystal ball or can predict the future because the Penguins leader was right on all accounts. Malkin lead the team in hits with five, scored a goal, added an assist, and mixed it up with numerous Predators in defense of his teammates. His teammates played exceptional from top to bottom which included Phil Kessel scoring and adding two assists. When Malkin says it’s so, everyone should believe. Leadership, playoffs leading scorer, predictor of the future, if that’s not Conn Smythe worthy then I don’t know what is.

Should Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins win one more game and repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, the likely-hood of the Conn Smythe Trophy being awarded to Malkin, should be eminent. It takes 16 wins to become Stanley Cup Champions and Penguins need one more. No doubt it will take another All-Star effort by Malkin and his teammates to make it happen.

 

Killer Instinct Key To Penguins Playoff Run

Heading in to a potential Stanley Cup clinching game, the Pittsburgh Penguins have proven an old cliche completely wrong. 

The saying “we need to play 60 minutes” is, and always has been, utter nonsense.The 2016-2017 playoff Penguins have been remarkably inconsistent for a team making it all the way to the Final. Even taking out the surprise Columbus Blue Jackets in 5 games in Round 1, Pittsburgh wasn’t the better team over 60 minutes for more than 2 of them.

They are also, however, remarkably resilient. They have that killer instinct where they know when to turn it on. Every team has had their moments where they’ve made the Penguins look mediocre. Really bad even.

They’ve had more than their share of frustrations. They’ve had a struggling power play. They’ve had lacklustre goaltending. They have had slumping stars. They’ve had them sometimes all at the same time. Opposing team supporters are almost right when they say the Penguins have no business being in the Final.

Yet here they are, one win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions. 

No matter what happens over the next game or maybe two, you can’t possibly believe it’s dumb luck anymore.

You can’t possibly deny the leadership abilities of Sidney Crosby, or the complete game he plays. You can’t possibly still believe Evgeni Malkin is only a good player being carried. You can no longer believe they just happened to luck into solid rookie depth players who have miraculously all decided to play above their potential consistently for two seasons and two playoffs. 

What you have to accept is this team is everything the “blind supporters” believe it is. 

The last team to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions are the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings and that’s very important. When you look at another very complete player in captain Steve Yzerman, you see another leader who sacrificed offensive dominance for team success. You see another group of overachieving third and fourth liners who played out of their minds.

You can look at that and say Yzerman was just fortunate to have played with a bunch of future hall of Famers. Or you could understand following a leader like that showed them what it took to be Hall of Famers.

In a decade or so, time will tell how many Hall of Famers or long term career contributors there are on these 2016 and 2017 Penguins teams, but at that time I also hope we don’t forget they started as just bunch of nobody rookies playing follow the leader.

COLUMN: Sit Back, Relax, And Enjoy

In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators are tied at two games a piece heading into game five of the best of seven series. And yet, people are still unsatisfied.

Walk around downtown and you hear the murmurs of negativity. Talk to your co-worker and it’s likely they want off with Matt Murray‘s head. Heck, call your family members and I’m sure panic has begun to set in amongst the household.

The Penguins first won the Stanley Cup back in 1991 and then did it again in 92’. They won in 2009 and again last season. They lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008. 1991 was exactly 26 years ago. The Penguins have been to six Stanley Cups in that time frame. They have participated in 23% of the Stanley Cup Finals since 1991. Only the Detroit Red Wings have appeared in as many the Penguins.

That’s an important thing to ponder when you look at how successful the Penguins as a franchise have been. So how does that in any way, shape, or form affect the 2016-17′ Penguins? Ask Mike Sullivan.

Calm, cool, collected. Three very good adjectives to describe one of the best things to happen to the Penguins since Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. The Penguins have yet to lose a playoff series under Sullivan and have faced this much adversity on many occasions.

As one of my friends today put it: “This might be the best era of Penguins hockey we’ve ever seen”.

He isn’t referring to the 26 years that have elapsed since the Penguins first championship. He’s speaking on behalf of what the next 3-5 years could potentially hold.

The Penguins are back in the same Stanley Cup Finals that they won last season and took an early two game lead after the first two games played at PPG Paints Arena. They’re the first team to participate in back to back Stanley Cups since…themselves and Detroit. The Blackhawks 3-in-6 “dynasty” that we talk about could easily be topped by this team. Don’t count it out. They’ve got a chance to be 2-in-2.

And what’s this goalie debate you speak of? Who really cares if we are being honest. This is the best goalie tandem that the Penguins have ever had and will ever have. Unfortunately, the salary cap and the expansion draft will likely force the Penguins to have to break up this tandem.

In his darkest of days, no one has been more supportive of Marc-Andre Fleury than Murray. Fleury spent all of last season’s playoffs, sans the loss to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, riding the bench after returning from his concussion. He played these playoffs until a 4 goals on 9 shots performance in game three of this season’s Eastern Conference Finals got him yanked from the crease.

Murray, who began this season on the injured reserve, has been stellar this postseason outside of his game four performance that has the Murray/Fleury debate rearing its ugly head.

Just let it be. Instead of beig opposed to one of these outstanding goalies, appreciate the fact that it’s very likely that the Penguins don’t make it to this point had Jim Rutherford shipped away Fleury amidst the trade deadline rumors.

It seems as though the Penguins finally will have to get rid of part of the “core four” when Fleury likely parts ways this offseason. That era has brought its ups and downs. Can you even fathom what this era will do?

Not only will Crosby, Malkin, and Letang rest assuredly be in a Penguins uniform next season, add the likes of Jake Guentzel for a full season. Even further down that 3-5 year path, talented prospects like Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese will be showcasing their NHL talents.

I could name plenty of young guys who we’ve watched over the past two postseasons do magical things for the Penguins. They’ve never had this much speed or balance or depth or any part of the magical formula that wins teams hockey games this day in age.

If the Penguins can win game five and take a 3-2 stronghold on the series, can they win one of the final two and take home Lord Stanley.

That would mean that with all the talent they’ve got, they’d have four years to match or even better the “3-in-6” standard set by Chicago. They’ll have better stars and a better goalie than Chicago did to do the trick.

Seriously, quit worrying about the little things with this team. They’ve done nothing but prove you wrong, anyway. Relax, grab a pepsi or coke, watch this team play their way one game closer to that final victory to win them a second consecutive Stanley Cup Finals.

Keys/Notes to Game 4

The Pittsburgh Penguins head into game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals up 2-1, the exact same situation they were in last season and well, we all know how that ended.

  • After Sunday’s practice, it appears that Matt Murray will remain the starter for the Pens in game 4 and rightfully so. Murray is an astounding 7-0 following a playoff loss. Murray has proven in is short NHL career that his ability to bounce back after a loss is top notch. It’s no surprise Sullivan sticks with his guy.

 

Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons (10) celebrates a goal as Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) looks on during the second period in Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Saturday, June 3, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. Photo: Mark Humphrey, AP / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

  • Shockingly it appears that Nick Bonino will be a game time decision for game 4. Bonino missed game 3 with a lower body injury (ankle) and was in a boot and on crutches the past two days. He did skate early Sunday morning, and then later participate in practice, being part of the second power play unit.

  • Geno Malkin. I believe that game 4 is the type of game we can see Geno take over. After a frustrating game 3, I fully expect Malkin to come out with a purpose and lead the pens to a victory in Nashville.

  • The Power play. There is no question that the Pens power play has struggled during the finals. The Penguins are just 1-13 in finals on the power play. With their one goal coming in game 1. If it is a mixing of lines, moving players around in the zone, or a new look player play completely, special teams wins or loses games and right now it is costing the Pens.

Image result for penguins power play

The Pens look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead Monday night in Nashville. It will not be an easy game, but the Penguins have proven that they bounce back well after a loss. Puck drop is set for a little after 8pm in Nashville on NBC.

COLUMN: When It Reigns, It Pours

Anyone seen the Ottawa Senators? Maybe they were out too late last night celebrating goalie Craig Anderson‘s birthday because it sure seemed like it.

Anderson pulled off his best Marc-Andre Fleury impression by giving up four goals in the first period and giving his team virtually no chance to win. After absolutely dominating the Penguins in the first three games, Anderson has faultered over the past two and was even pulled in game five.

The Penguins took this one 7-0. It wasn’t close from Olli Maatta‘s opening of the scoring to Trevor Daley capping it off mid-way through the third on the power play, it was never in doubt.

The Penguins dominated from the opening face off. It was inevitable that they’d at least score but the seven goals weren’t just a fluke. They were legitimately the better team.

They know better than anyone as the defending champs that, when it reigns, it pours. As hungry as they were last year, they’re more hungry this time around.

I’ll give you this, the Penguins do look disinterested at times. They look tired, slow, sloppy, lackadaisical. You name it. But, they are a tired team after last year’s run. And I think they want nothing more than to win a Stanley Cup as a team that is nowhere close to 100%.

Between injuries, fatigue, and a lack of dominant performances from their star players, the Penguins want to win this to show the NHL that they legitimately are the best team in the league.

Take a look at the box score. There were two players in uniform this afternoon, sans Matt Murray, that didn’t put a shot on goal; Mark Streit and Jake Guentzel.

Everyone wanted in on the action tonight. That’s big. The team as a whole knew that they won’t score by looking for the perfect play and skating right into the trap. They used the momentum from a big series turning game four victory and zoomed into game five wanting it more. Poor Craig Anderson got abused on his birthday.

Another tidbit from the score sheet tonight: The Penguins had seven players with two or more points on the night. They got a three assist night out of Evgeni Malkin and Carter Rowney. Yes, Carter Rowney. He’s been sensational in this postseason.

Murray may not have been the star tonight despite his shutout but he deserves credit. He turned away 25 shots, which is a high number for how badly Ottawa was outplayed, for his first shutout this postseason in only his second start. He wants to be the Murray that won game after game last year to lead Pittsburgh to glory.

These reigning champions are one win away from moving to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second consecutive season. They want the chance to defend that title. 

Anaheim or Nashville await them if they are to win Tuesday. They control their own destiny now. It’s time to push through to the Finals.

Series Analysis: Pens Top Caps in 7

Wow.  The Penguins did it again.

And should we even really be shocked any more?

On the 1 year anniversary of the Nick Bonino overtime winner against the Capitals last year in game 6, the Penguins once again beat their division rival to move on to the next round.  Although this time, it took 7 games.  Going into the game, many Penguins fans thought that the Caps were going to end it.  I knew that if any team was going to pull off this win, it would be the Penguins, but I really didn’t think they actually would.

Well until they did, of course.

Marc-Andre Fleury pitched a shutout, which adds to this story-book ending of the series, as the Penguins knock the Capitals out of the playoffs with a 2-0 win in Washington, and now hold a 9-1 lead in the series against the Caps.

Let’s make this clear: A Penguins’ team that was clearly concerned about losing Kris Letang for 1 game against the Capitals last year just took out the President’s Trophy winners without him.

And Matt Murray

And a banged up D-core…

Oh yeah, and they played almost 2 games without Conor Sheary and Sidney Crosby!

Not to mention that this was a Capitals team that remained healthy all year, were healthy in the playoffs, dealt for Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline, and were once again the clear favorites to finally lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Until they ran into the Penguins.  Again.

The Penguins were outplayed for the majority of this series, but they found ways to win hockey games, 4 out of 7 to be exact, against an extremely talented hockey team.  So, how did the Penguins pull it off, despite blowing a 3-1 series lead and having to go back to Washington for a do-or-die game 7?  Here is my series analysis, which includes 5 main reasons as to why the Penguins were able to emerge victorious, once again:

Marc-Andre Fleury > Braden Holtby

The Capitals needed Braden Holtby to be…well…Braden Holtby if they were going to beat the Penguins in these 2017 playoffs.  In fact, they simply needed Holtby to be the better goaltender between him and Fleury.  Unfortunately, for the Capitals, this was not the case.

The Penguins generated some decent chances throughout the series, but not once outshot the Capitals in a single game.  Holtby did not have to stop a ton of pucks, so one would think that he would have had the edge over Fleury.

Well, he may have.  But the stats indicate otherwise.

Holtby had an abysmal .887 save percentage (17 goals on 151 shots), compared to his .925 save percentage in the regular season, good enough for the former Vezina winner to be yet another nominee to win the trophy for the 2016-17 year as the NHL’s top goaltender. However, it was the Penguins’ goaltender, Fleury, that looked like the Vezina Trophy nominee in this series.

Fleury kept his hot play from round 1 going into round 2, and put up a .921 save percentage (18 goals on 227 shots) in this series, including a shutout in game 7.   Although a .921 save percentage is quite good, I still do not think it even comes close to describing how well he played in this series and how many absolutely unbelievable stops he made.  One, in particular, comes to mind:

Without their top defenseman Letang, the Penguins will need him to continue to be their best player if they want a chance at moving on.  Fleury seems up to the task, as he holds a .927 save percentage in these playoffs.  If he can keep up these kind of stats behind a dangerous Penguins’ offense that leads the NHL in playoff scoring…they just might have a chance.

Penguins’ Stars > Capitals’ Stars

Simply put, throughout the series, the Penguins star players stepped up to the plate.  The Capitals’ stars didn’t, especially when they needed it most in game 7.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was, in my opinion, the Capitals’ best player this series.  He needed to be a factor if the Capitals were to win this series, but he should not have been their best player…

Alexander Ovechkin had a few goals, sure, but none of them were game-changers.  He made mistakes in his defensive zone that cost his team goals more often than not, and played in a 3rd line in the final 3 games of the series, receiving less ice time than 6 other Capitals’ forwards in game 7.

Nick Backstrom had his moments, but didn’t really stick out at all to me.

TJ Oshie was largely just kind of there for this series.  He generated chances and was often causing mayhem in front of the net, but he did not contribute much offensively.

Justin Williams, Mr. Game 7 himself, was “out-Mr.-Game-7-ed” by Penguins’ forward Bryan Rust, and was largely invisible for the entire series.

John Carlson was…wait, who is he?

On the Penguins side, Crosby was about as good as it gets when he was healthy. Evgeni Malkin didn’t play his best hockey throughout the series but generated good chances, put up decent stats, and stepped up when Sid was out. Phil Kessel scored a few important goals for the Pens and continued to impress in the playoffs. Jake Guentzel continued his production and still leads the NHL playoffs in goal scoring. Nick Bonino came in clutch again in game 1 to give the Penguins the win.  And somehow, someway, Rust scored again and leaves Washington, DC with another elimination game game-winning goal in his back pocket.

Simply put: the Penguins’ big named guys outplayed the Capitals’ big named guys when it mattered most.  Period.

Quick Strike Ability

For the majority of this series, the Penguins were badly outplayed.  Ironically, one of their better games, game 3, was one of the games they would lose.  Regardless, the Penguins truly were not the better team for probably 80% of this series.

They were outshot 227-151, and often times the Capitals were able to have multiple shifts in a game where they would have the Penguins completely pinned in their zone.  The Penguins were not able to do this often to the Capitals.  And yet, they were able to win the series.

I think this was mainly due to the Penguins quick strike ability.  It seemed as though many of the Penguins goals came after an extended shift for Washington when it seemed like they were going to get a goal.  All of the sudden, someone has a breakaway or the Penguins have a 3 on 2 the other way and score.

The Penguins shooting percentage was 11.26% in this series, which is incredibly high.  I really do not think Holtby played an awful series.  His stats were not good at all, but I honestly think the Penguins simply scored at will when they needed to and generated high-danger scoring chances and capitalized, unlike the Caps.

The Penguins Are In Their Heads

The Penguins own a 9-1 series lead over the Washington Capitals, and Ovechkin has yet to see an Eastern Conference Final.  Oh, and every Stanley Cup the Penguins’ have won in the Crosby era involve the Penguins going through Washington.

Need I say more?

Mike Sullivan

The Penguins, somehow, took a 3-1 series lead into game 5, but it certainly did not feel like a 3-1 series lead.  The Penguins even took a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period of game 5, before allowing 3 goals in the 3rd and losing 4-2.  The Penguins then came back home for a game 6 with another chance to wipe out the Capitals, and were just straight up man-handled.  The Caps put up 5 straight goals to open the scoring, and the Pens would lose 5-2 as Guentzel and Malkin put up meaningless tallies in the games’ waning minutes.

The series then shifted to Washington for game 7, and it just screamed 2010 Eastern Conference Finals against the Canadiens all over again.  The Penguins had the 3-1 lead coming off of a Cup win the previous year, but just became too fatigued and did not have the drive, heart, or energy to finish it off.

Except the guy behind the bench isn’t Michel Therrien or Dan Bylsma.

Sullivan and his coaching staff should receive a ton of credit for this game 7 win and series win.  The Penguins, after being dominated at home in embarrassing fashion, had a practice that was almost entirely X’s and O’s, as stated by multiple sites/sources.  The coaching staff knew what they needed to adjust against Washington, and clearly, they pushed the right buttons, as the 2-0 final game 7 score indicated.  Sullivan said after the game that this was the best game for the Penguins this postseason, and it’s hard to disagree.

This team felt the pressure of game 7, but they fed off of it, rather than let it get to them like this team had in the past, and I attribute that to Mike Sullivan.  He has changed this team and their mindset, and makes it extremely difficult to ever count these Penguins out.

Sullivan is now 6-0 in playoff series as the Penguins’ head coach, and you can bet he wants to be 8-0 after this year.

He’s not done, and these Penguins aren’t done either…

Bring it on, Ottawa.

COLUMN: It’s Go Time

It’s Wednesday. Tonight, the Penguins will look to win their fourth game of the series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Ottawa Senators all while avoiding becoming the first team to allow the Capitals to get to the Conference Finals for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era.

But this isn’t even about that.

The narrative that the Capitals don’t win the big games is there. The narrative that Ovechkin will never win a Stanley Cup is there. The “Penguins blew a 3-1 lead” narrative would be there.

It’s not even about those.

It’s about how the Penguins respond. As a team that has been pegged as one of the most resilient teams in the NHL, what gives with the two flattest performances in a long time in games five and six? The stars have gone cold and the fans have gotten colder.

Here’s a narrative for all of you: How many of you actually believed at the beginning of this series that we’d breeze through the Capitals in five games? I can guarantee not many of you did. I didn’t.

I had “#PensIn6” at the beginning of the series and that, to me, was best case scenario. Here we are. The NHL’s two best regular season teams in a game seven for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. I don’t think it gets much better.

Of course, panic sets in because Washington was able to win two straight games and have all the momentum going home to Washington. But how do you define momentum?

“The impetus gained by a moving object,” is the non-physics definition of momentum. If you watch a hockey game, you’ll know that both team’s are moving objects. There is no physical object moving from game to game aside from time.

And it’s go time for the Penguins.

The Sidney Crosby‘s and Evgeni Malkin‘s of the world need to get going. The Phil Kessel‘s of the world have yet to show up to the playoffs. Luckily, Marc-Andre Fleury has absolutely stolen three wins in this series. It’s time the team wins for him.

It’s inevitable that this is Fleury’s last ride in a Penguins’ uniform with the emergence of Matt Murray and the looming expansion draft. I would hate for that pathetic 5-0 loss to be the final time Fleury plays in PPG Paints Arena while donning a Penguins uniform.

Mike Sullivan will need to be better, too. Go back to what worked. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Whatever the hell that game was on Monday night, that was broke. So it needs fixed.

And there is a simple fix.

Take Conor Sheary OFF of Crosby’s line. Take him so far off that he’s witnessing the game from the press box. Put Guentzel back on Crosby’s line where he leads the NHL in goals for the playoffs. They were together for all of a few shifts last night and managed to score a goal in the waning minutes. Guentzel scored, Crosby assisted.

And by all means, shoot the puck.

Watching the Penguins power play on Monday was abysmal. The constant passing and looking for the perfect shot drive me crazy. Braden Holtby has not been good in this series at all. The Penguins are not putting shots on him. He’s had 3 different instances where he’s faced less than twenty shots and has given up two or more goals in each game. He’s 1-2 in those games.

If the Penguins just throw shots at him like the Pirates give up home runs, then the Penguins will win that game. Mark my words.

It’s go time, Pittsburgh. Let them hear you in Washington. Keep the dream alive. But just remember, if the Penguins do lose, it’s nearly impossible these days to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

The Penguins are 5-0 in game seven’s on the road in franchise history. They’ve done it in Washington twice. Tonight, the Penguins need to be immortal and do so again to avoid becoming a part of a very familiar meme…