It is a tough time to be a Penguins fan. I admit that the current injury situation is one word: overwhelming. Currently we have Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Kristopher Letang, Paul Martin, Richard Park. Dustin Jeffrey, Ben Lovejoy and Zbynek Michalek all seeing significant injuries this season and have been lucky that the team has depth in the system. The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Wheeling Nailers have been busy shuttling players back and forth to cover the roster spots opened by injury.
There has been a silver lining throughout this very roller coaster of a season however, and it is something that I am very glad to be witnessing. Someone has stepped up and found that next level that he had previously only shown glimpses of for a few games at a time, someone who was being relied on to come through for the team and someone that is a legitimate threat to take over a game. That someone is Evgeni “Geno” Malkin.
We have been able to see this potential for many seasons and it broke out in the 2009 Stanley Cup Play-offs against the Carolina Hurricanes. Geno not only showed up for that series but he virtually defeated the Hurricanes single handily. It allowed him to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as Play-off MVP and also gave the world this great moment that someone made even more epic:
Last season were witnessed Sidney Crosby take the next step in his evolution as the best player in the NHL and the world. This season we are witnessing the evolution of Evgeni Malkin to stand beside Crosby. I will admit that in the past I was not the biggest supporter of Malkin. He lacked consistency, he lacked the focus to play at a high level every game, he lacked the hunger to be the best in the world, he seemed to disappear for periods of time and he reminded too much of Jaromir Jagr.
Now that may not seem like a bad thing and it is not fully a bad thing. I remember a young Jagr having all the skill and talent in the world and for the most part he used it to establish himself as an elite player. However, Jaromir seemed to get lost in the game when he didn’t feel the motivation to play hard. He would look lazy and dis-interested on the ice and looked like he would rather be somewhere else. I saw the same things in Malkin.
After the Stanley Cup win in 2009, there were rumors up in this neck of the woods of there being a huge blockbuster trade between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets that saw the deal include trading Evgeni Malkin for Rick Nash and at the time I was all for this trade. I saw the depth we had in the minors and thought it would allow Jordan Staal to step up into a more prominent offensive role. It also would have brought a big body, scoring touch to a line with Sidney.
I thought maybe Malkin would end up never achieving the potential that I saw in him and always be the “What could he have done if motivated” poster boy for the NHL. I am glad to say that this season we have seen the next level reached by Malkin. He is becoming that player who dominated Carolina for one play off round. He has figured out how to bring it every game and he is right next to Sidney as the best player in the NHL. I was wrong and Geno am score. Lots!