Tag Archives: Evgeni Malkin

Road To The Rocket Richard

All the talk of Phil Kessel getting Hart Trophy votes and Sidney Crosby’s 400th goal have overshadowed another legitimate possibility.  Evgeni Malkin winning the Rocket Richard this season. Just two goals out from the top spot, it’s something to get excited for.

Of course, being overlooked and taken for granted is not anything new for Malkin, but after winning player of the month in January and following up with player of the week for the opening of February, it’s impossible to ignore him. Malkin is the hottest player in hockey.

During his current 31 goal season, Malkin has been nothing but spectacular. Even at 31, he still leaves us saying “wow” on some of his plays. Like this one from Tuesday:

That’s what we get from him. En route to his scoring, Malkin contributes with a dynamic style. He’ll kill you in front of the net, on the power play, or simply just a wrist shot on a quick rush. Once the defense has an answer for him, Geno comes up with another way to defeat you.

For one game, he’s stick handling through everyone to go one on one with the goalie, and the next game you suffer from his shot placement from a spot you wouldn’t think people shoot from.

Malkin has a well known litany of awards and accomplishments, surprisingly though the Rocket Richard Trophy is not one of these.  A key tribute to his success of course is that he’s stayed on the ice, playing in 54 of 58 games this season.

This is something that has impeded Malkin’s regular seasons stats. Between the last five years from 2013-2018, Malkin has failed to reach even 70 games, having an average of 65 games played, with a high of 69 in 2014-2015. He always shows up and is there come playoff time though, that’s for sure.

Yet however, with all that said about the lack of long term regular season games, in the two seasons he won his Hart Trophy (2012) and two Art Ross trophies (09′, 12′), he played 82 (2009) and 75 games (20012). Malkin is on pace to accomplish that this season.

He could also join Crosby as a Rocket Richard winner, and be the first pair of teammates to win the trophy in consecutive years since the award’s inception. The Penguins do know a thing or two about going back to back.

There’s no reason to believe Geno won’t stop scoring goals and points at a rampant pace with his skilled talent. By remaining on the ice, he can accomplish another milestone.

His career regular season best is 50 goals, that can be reached with 24 games left to go. Personal bests are great,  but they’re much nicer when you have some new extra hardware to put next to your Cups and trophies of value.

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The Best and Worst of The Penguins in One Night

On Sunday night, the Penguins won a rollercoaster of a game against the Boston Bruins 6-5 in overtime. The Bruins were fresh off a 7-1 victory in Boston against the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that the Penguins just can’t seem to figure out. This game had potential to be very good and very bad and we got exactly that. The best (and worst) of both worlds.

The first period is a prime example of how this game was being pulled every which way. Bruins score 1:51 into the frame because the Penguins defense continue to forget that leaving people in front of your net is a bad thing and usually results in more bad things.

Ryan Spooner gets his 4th of the year and we’re in for a treat. A couple minutes later the Penguins are cycling well down low, which was one of the exceptionally good portions of their game Sunday, and work it up to the hockey form of a stone giant in Jamie Oleksiak who nets his 3rd of the year on a shot Tuukka Rask probably should have stopped.

The Penguins get a powerplay and Phil Kessel gets a feed from Sidney Crosby and is given more than 0.001 seconds to shoot and that’s never good for the opposing team. The powerplay king scores his 18th of the year and continues to lead the league in powerplay points. Kris Letang scores to add on and the Penguins go into the first period up 3-1.

Pretty good start right? Well this is where I would describe the hockey as being bad. Very bad, very quickly.

In no way was this Tristan Jarry‘s best night. He didn’t get much help on defense as Boston scores 4 goals on 7 shots in the second period and the Penguins are handling the puck like a live hand grenade. Turnovers were handed out like candy on Halloween.

Then something that hasn’t happened virtually all year happened. The Penguins have been having trouble scoring goals when they need them. For example, when you’re being bombarded with shots and you can’t generate much offense, the best defense against that is a goal to stop the bleeding. The Penguins were awarded another powerplay and desperately needed a goal to end this atrocious period. Sure enough, Sid, to Evgeni Malkin, to the back of the net and the second period ends 5-4.

Third period starts and the Penguins seem to be buzzing. Play is really going both ways when Riley Sheahan catches a break and gets a step on Boston’s D. Another shot Rask should have stopped but they don’t ask how, they ask how many.

At this point the hockey has plateaued. Then Brad Marchand gets loose. Marchand gets slashed. Marchand gets a penalty shot. Did I mention Matt Murray is now in net? Murray stops Marchand and eventually we go to overtime.

Overtime was incredibly one sided. Penguins possessed the puck almost the entire time with Boston continually on their heels defensively. Finally Kessel busts into the zone with speed and after a few quick passes with Malkin, Geno buries it and everyone goes home happy.

This was the best I’ve seen the Penguins play and the worst I’ve seen the Penguins play. Daniel Sprong does in fact need defensive development. Shocker. I thought those scouts were lying the entire time. Crosby is returning to form. Malkin went nuts offensively but was incredibly lazy defensively. Goaltending on both sides was subpar besides Murray.

As I said, it was the best and the worst of the Penguins all in one night.

Pens On Verge of Offensive Outbreak

The Penguins can only not be the Penguins for so long.  They’ve surprisingly had struggles scoring goals all season, especially at even strength.  They rank 19th in the NHL in goals per game, which is very un-Penguin-like.

Well you are witnessing the end of the offensive drought.  The Penguins are back.

The Penguins have scored 5 goals in each of their last 2 games, which is a small sample size, but it has significance:

The first of these 2 games came against the Tampa Bay Lightning, arguably the hottest team in hockey along with St. Louis.  Although their starting goaltender, Andrei Vasileskiy, was not manning the crease for the Lightning, the Penguins were starting their backup, Tristan Jarry, in the tail-end of a back-to-back scenario.  The Penguins not only won this game, but put an exclamation point on the win.  They were clearly the better team throughout the game, and it showed on the scoreboard.

The second of these 2 games was against the Philadelphia Flyers who, despite not having a great season thus far, always show up against the Penguins.  In addition, they unfortunately own the Penguins at Consol/PPG Paints, so a win was far from automatic.  Not only did the Penguins score 5 goals in this game, but they battled back on multiple occasions by erasing 3-1 and 4-3 deficits.

The defense absolutely still needs improvement.  They have been over-aggressive in the offensive zone and thus allowing opponents to have way too many odd-man chances.  That said, their offense is starting to show signs of life.  More importantly, the scorers are starting to score, and the Penguins are beginning to get some scoring from their depth guys:

After a rough start, Bryan Rust has looked fantastic in his past couple of games and has netted a couple of goals as a reward for his play.  I thought the line of him, Carter Rowney, and Carl Hagelin played extremely well against the Flyers.  They had multiple extended shifts and kept Philly pinned in their own end.

Jake Guentzel has 7 goals in his last 8 games, confirming that he is a pure goal-scorer when he is on his game. Guentzel had a rough start to the season, but he is starting to find his groove and regaining his confidence going into early December. Look for Guentzel to continue what he has been doing his past few games.

Phil Kessel has been straight up unbelievable.  He is tied for 4th in the NHL in points, and he leads the Penguins in every offensive category.  He is having an MVP-caliber season if he continues his play.  He has become the cornerstone of the Penguins power play, and has found his scoring touch as well.

Remember when Sidney Crosby died?  Again?  Yeah, he’s fine.  Dominating Philly, scoring OT winners, and scoring 9 points in his last 4 games, including 6 in his last 2.  He is going to be okay, and now that he has found his game, look out.  Remember what happened last time Crosby fell off the face of the earth?  It just might happen again…

Oh, and not to mention, the Penguins have scored 5 in their past 2 games without Evgeni Malkin, who will hopefully be back soon.

The Penguins are now done with the most difficult part of their schedule.  They play Buffalo in a home-and-home series this coming weekend which leads into a 5 game homestand.

The Penguins are on the verge of an offensive outbreak: it starts now.

Kessel Picking Up Crosby Production

In a season where the Penguins scoring has been consistently inconsistent, America’s favorite sweetheart, Phil Kessel, has been there to carry them. He’s providing a much needed jolt of point production.

Kessel’s hot start could not have came at a better time as the Penguins have seen a dip in goals scored by their star leader, Sidney Crosby.

Now hold your horses, Crosby has not lost his touch or declined in a play. He’s suffered from the negative side of what we here in the business call “puck luck”. Crosby has just had some bad puck luck, but he’s playing the right way and the goals will come.

The same thing happened about 2 or 3 seasons ago when everyone pointed out that Crosby wasn’t scoring. He ended up top 5 in points that year.

Matter of fact, the floodgates might have just been opened now that he scored Tuesday night. Let’s get back to the matter at hand though, and that’s Phil Kessel.

Most teams would suffer heavily from a lack up scoring from their best player. The Penguins should be no different, but Kessel has stepped up to the plate and delivered some of his best play during his stay as a Penguin.

Don’t believe me? Kessel is averaging the highest points per game of his career right now, not just as a Penguin, but in his entire career! Think about that, he doesn’t even have to be the top guy like he was on other teams, and yet he’s scoring like he is.

Kessel is 6th in the NHL in points, and it’s no mistake why he’s a top of that list. I can even think of a reasons because.

-He’s comfortable knowing his role. I know it’s his 3rd year here already but after moving around a couple lines, he know’s when to give and take, figuring out what’s best for business. This includes his role on the power play.

-I really think his relationship with Ryan Reaves has helped leaps and bounds for this team. I’m not exactly sure as to why, but when you just hit it off away from the ice the way these two have, it affects you on the ice.

They have a dynamic duo feel about them, partners in crime from your favorite movie. Like a Scooby Doo and Shaggy, Wayne and Garth, or SpongeBob and Patrick vibe. From playing basketball to playing pranks on road trips, the camaraderie has helped.

-The chemistry he has now with Evgeni Malkin is uncanny. You can’t measure how well these 2 have meshed this season. After throwing them on a line 2 seasons ago, things didn’t workout, but this year is a different story, and it’s benefitting both greatly.

Leaps and valleys always occur, but if Kessel can maintain his rapid production while Crosby is now about to go on his tear, the Penguins are not to be reckoned with. Though they haven’t been at their best yet, Phil Kessel has.

P.S.

Everyone needs this shirt.

Penguins Physicality Not What You Might Think

On October 6, after a 10-1 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan asked for more physicality from his players.

Physical play has been a point of contention for years in Pittsburgh as superstar veterans Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and especially Sidney Crosby have been the victims of some “liberties” dished out by opposing players who have little retribution to fear based on the Penguins roster.

Fans haven’t quite been satisfied with the contributions of protection players such as Tom Sestito, and the addition of Ryan Reaves for the 2017-18 season opens the conversation even wider. Although Reaves has been pretty good so far, the Penguins won two Stanley Cups in a row and counting with those types of players contributing minute bit parts on the journey.

So if that isn’t the kind of toughness the Penguins rely on, what kind of physicality is Sullivan asking for? Substituting the word “physicality” with the words “compete” and “body position” might give you the answer.

The game against Chicago really wasn’t that bad as far as the Penguins creating their own chances and having the puck. The Blackhawks just simply weren’t slowed down at all by any sort of physical contact. I don’t mean hitting. I mean body positioning.

Someone like Carl Hagelin seems lost so far. It’s because he’s not engaging. To create separation from an opponent, you first have to come together. That’s why in every foot race as a kid someone would always jokingly push off the person you’re racing against. It’s why basketball and soccer players post up, leaning into the opponent with their back. It helps you control where your opponent can move, and what your opponent can reach with the hands or stick.

It’s why football quarterbacks want their top receivers in one on one coverage so they can battle for position and control the defender. The quarterback always gets the credit for putting the ball “where only the receiver could get it”, but that magic spot the defender can’t reach is only created by the positioning and desire of the receiver to keep that defender away from that spot.

We always think of using your body and being physical on the defensive side of the puck. This tweet I put out a while ago is a great example of an NHL defenseman doing everything right with physicality, not in terms of hitting but just by pure compete and positioning:

But this kind of physicality is just as important on offense. Watch Partic Hornqvist‘s recent goal against the Florida Panthers:

One notable thing about Conor Sheary is how he reminds me of Crosby. It’s not his hands or his moves. It’s his strength. It’s how he keeps low and fends off anyone trying to get in his way. He craves the feeling of someone on him so he can win the battle and explode away. Crosby is famous for fending off players riding his back, using his body positioning and lower body strength to make even the best checkers look like they need to hit the gym. But if he didn’t engage in the physicality with them, he wouldn’t be able to use his strength to his advantage. What’s the point of being the strongest lower body player in the game if you never engage?

To demonstrate the point, here’s a video shot by John Moore of some Nova Scotian NHLers practicing in Halifax during the off season. James Sheppard, Zack Sill, Brad Marchand, and Crosby are all working on puck protection. Notice how little body checking there is. It’s just brute strength and intelligent body placement. The most important detail in this video is this: notice how not one single battle is won until one of these players pushes off the other and explodes away. Spoiler alert: it’s not the guy without the puck that does this in most cases. It’s the guy WITH the puck.

This is the physicality Mike Sullivan needs on both offense and “defense”.

COLUMN: Earth To Malkin, Kessel

It’s been fun to watch a couple guys for various reasons so far this season.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed how good Bryan Rust has been through the first five games. He is absolutely flying out there. Carl Hagelin is doing much of the same except a little less success on the score sheet.

I have liked the play of all the guys who got extensions in the offseason. Brain Dumoulin has been good. Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz much of the same.

I’ve marveled seeing Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel return this season with the same magic they had last season. You can add Patric Hornqvist‘s return from hand surgery to an inspired group of hockey players.

Kris Letang finally returning. Greg McKegg earning a roster spot out of camp. Matt Murray returning for his “sophomore” season, technically. There have been lots of encouraging stories to come from the Penguins’ early 2-2-1 start to the season.

As all these awesome stories play out, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have been nothing but bystanders to it all.

There is a lot of money and expectations tied up between these two Pittsburgh folk legends for them to be making a very minimal, if not opaque, impact on what the team has done in the first five games.

Between the two of them, they have seven points on the season. Rust alone has seven point and leads the team. Captain Crosby, who’s been everything you’d want from your captain in the early going, has six points by himself.

But, hockey isn’t just about the score sheet and getting points. Yes, you don’t win without them, but you can make an impact away from the puck as well. Kessel and Malkin both have not had a game yet where they stood out amongst everybody on either team.

To Kessel’s credit, he was one of the better players in the Nashville game which the Penguins inevitably won in shutout fashion. That same game, I can’t recall hearing much of Malkin’s name being called.

I’m not one to call out someone’s work ethic. I am not, by any means, calling Malkin lazy because he is far from it. He is one of the most driven hockey players in the league and Penguins fans have seen first hand what happens when Malkin gets locked in. Perhaps, you’re a “I’d rather him exert himself in April and beyond, not now” person, which is understandable. But I have yet to even notice Malkin make an impact in any of the Penguins five games so far. I’m not worried about him. I’m just wondering if he knows the season started.

Kessel is a different story.

I predicted a 30 goal, 80 point season for Kessel. It really just had a feel that was right. Two Stanley Cups later, maybe that would drive Kessel to have his best season yet and help drive the Penguins to something historic. This is what Kessel is and does. He plays when he wants to. He is a guy who will fill the back of the net with goals, but they come in spurts. He can score in six straight games. He’ll then counter that with a 10-game goal drought.

I am not worried about either of them. They will turn it up eventually and I will shut my mouth. But to make $9.5 million (Malkin) and $6.8 million (Kessel); I don’t think they should escape criticism just because of their star status.

The Penguins are already short at center depth. If there was ever a time for Malkin to play up to the standards he is capable of, it is now until they find a better third-line center than McKegg. For Kessel, just be more consistent. Don’t be so sporadic in scoring goals. Do it with more consistency and I promise you, this team won’t have anything to worry about.

Would Danis Zaripov Fit in Pittsburgh?

On August 29th, Danis Zaripov was banned from the KHL and the IIHF for illegal substances. However, the substances he was banned for are not banned in the NHL, so Zaripov has expressed interest in signing with an NHL team. Saturday during training camp,  Evgeni Malkin once again mentioned how much he would like to see Zaripov in the Pittsburgh black and gold. As reported by Jason Mackey, Malkin told the press that “If [Sullivan] talks to me a little more, I would say more. I like him (Zaripov) so much. Of course I want to see [him here].” Obviously Malkin would love to see Zaripov here but would he fit here in Pittsburgh, and would it be in the best interests of the team?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9o-dD0v2uow

Above are some of Zaripov’s best plays from his career with the KHL club Kazan Ak-Bars. Impressive right?

He certainly possesses the skill and speed to be a dangerous winger in the NHL, and that speed and skill is exactly what the Penguins are built around. A line with him, Malkin, and Kessel would not only be one of the best second lines in the league, and would be arguably better than many NHL team’s power play units.

I know what you are thinking. This video is 5 years old. He is 36 years old now. He may be out of his prime but his stats haven’t really fallen. In fact, according to EliteProspects.com, in last year’s KHL playoffs he had 15 goals and 7 assists for a combined 22 points in a mere 18 games. Imagine what he could do on the wing of Malkin, one of the best centers in the NHL right now, and 2 time Stanley Cup Champion, Phil Kessel.

Now here’s the problem. According to Cap Friendly the Penguins only have $3.2 million in Cap Space, and they will most likely need the majority of it for a third line center, assuming they aren’t going to try and use someone else like Bryan Rust, Adam Johnson, or anyone else currently in the organization to permanently fill the role of third line center.

Here is why Zaripov being 36 is almost a good thing. If he were to sign a deal it would most likely be only a one year ‘prove it’ type of deal. So if he really does want to play in the NHL, he isn’t going to get paid the $3 million he did in the KHL. At least not until he proves he can be a dangerous winger in the NHL. So he probably won’t get signed anywhere in the NHL for more than $1 or $2 million. The Penguins could afford spending around $1 million on him if they use a center already in the organization or shed some cap in the trade to acquire the third line center.

An additional reason why he may not be a good fit in the Burgh’ is simply that he is a winger. The Penguins are overflowing in young winger depth and Zaripov will just get in the way of players like Zach Aston-Reese, Daniel Sprong, Frederik Tiffles, and Thomas DiPauli.

Signing Zaripov probably isn’t a very good use of the precious remaining cap space as he doesn’t fill the all too important third line center void. But having a second line of Zaripov, Malkin, and Kessel could very well be worth the cap space. So in my opinion, the only real potentially deal breaking downside is how much he is willing to get paid.