February 7, 2012

MVP: Most Valuable Penguin?

In a season where the Penguins have been absolutely decimated by injuries, with key players missing significant time such as Crosby (45 games), Letang (23 games) and Staal (19 games) respectfully; you wouldn’t expect much from the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, they currently sit in 5th place in the Eastern Conference standings, and are 1 of the NHL’s hottest teams recently. How is that possible without not only the NHL’s best player but the world’s best player in Sidney Crosby, and the answer is simple…Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin has been an absolute force this season, and at this point he is the league’s most valuable player at this point in the season! He has 29 goals and 61 points in only 46 games played this season, if you pro-rate that to an 82 game season, he would be on pace for 52 goals and 109 points! Malkin has been the epitome of consistency all season long, not being held off the scoresheet for more than 2 games in a row yet. But his play as of late is what has really had him running away with the Hart trophy, as he has been on fire! In Malkin’s last 14 games he has scored 14 goals! Scoring at least 1 goal in 11 of the last 14, he has been contributing every single game, and is one of the biggest reasons that the Penguins are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games, after losing 6 games in a row.

The Penguins were plummeting in the standings, as during a 6 game losing streak they managed to score only 6 goals! But don’t blame those losses on Geno, as he had 3 goals and 4 points on those 6 goals. However, with the season hanging in the balance, Malkin put the Penguins on his back and dominated each and every single game since getting the Penguins all the way back up to 5th place in the East. During the 9-1 Penguins run, they managed to score 4 or more goals in 6 out of 10 games, in large part due to the all-star forward. But it’s not only the amount of goals and points Malkin put up during the winning streak, it’s the timing of his goals that impressed me even more. In those 10 games, he scored 3 Game Winning Goals; one vs Fla, one in OT vs the Capitals and one of which included a natural hat trick in the 3rd period vs TB. But the key goals didn’t stop there, during those 10 games Malkin also scored 3 game winning goals in the shootout that didn’t count on the scoresheet. He scored the exact same goal in 3 straight shootouts, which is a perfectly placed shot 8 inches off the ice blocker side in off the post. He seems to have perfected it, and that kind of shot is a goalie’s worst nightmare, which is largely why he went 3/3 with that move! So in total Malkin’s goals were the difference in 6 out of 10 games. And that’s not even counting the fact that he scored a late 3rd period goal to get to overtime against Montreal, and scored with 6 seconds left to go to overtime vs the Leafs. Malkin has been without a doubt the most clutch and dominant performer in the NHL over the past few weeks! In fact, Malkin has been so good that the question isn’t “is he the best player playing right now”, it’s “will he be the league’s best player even when Crosby comes back”? Malkin, when healthy, has played without Sidney Crosby for a significant amount of time twice in his career now. The first time was in 2007-08 when Crosby missed 22 games. During those games, Malkin scored 14 goals and had 36 points! That is almost 2 points per game! This season, in 8 games with Crosby, Malkin had 10 points. But without him in 38 games he has 25 goals and 51 points. It seems as if Malkin produces more when Crosby is out. The reason for this is because when Crosby is out, Malkin is given true #1 center opportunities, and he seems to respond extremely well to the pressure. 1 year ago, if anybody asked hypothetically if the Penguins had to choose between Malkin and Crosby, who would they keep? It would have been no-contest Sidney Crosby, but now if you combine the level Malkin is playing at with Crosby’s injury issues; I think you would get a very different answer.

For those of you who will argue and say that a few good months from Malkin, doesn’t erase what Crosby has done, you are completely right. But Malkin hasn’t only had a few great months. He has been great his entire career! He started off by winning the Calder trophy in his rookie season, he then was the runner up for the Hart trophy 2 seasons in a row, won the Art Ross in 1 of those 2, and also won the Conn Smythe trophy on his way to becoming a Stanley Cup champion. Well on his way to winning his 1st Hart trophy this year, there isn’t much more Evgeni Malkin could accomplish in the NHL. The only reason he hasn’t been fully noticed, is because he was playing in the shadow of Crosby. Malkin is no longer in the shadows, he is front row center, and in the spotlight for all the right reasons. The Penguins will only get better when Crosby returns, but even without him they are a force to be reckoned with, because even when the Penguins are missing the best player in the world (Crosby) to injury, they still have the best player in the world (Malkin) playing for them! One thing is for certain, Geno is here to stay, and the questions of whether or not he was a true #1, have subsided, as he has went above and beyond what was expected of him when he was drafted 2nd overall behind fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin; who is another NHL superstar who has taken a backseat to Evgeni Malkin this season! Get used to it

Grant Robinson (@thesportsgrind)
Check out my podcast www.grantrobinson.podbean.com

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