Pens' Malkin up for elite honors

| Thursday, June 12, 2008

Evgeni Malkin probably picked the wrong year to attend the NHL Awards Show.

A no-show last year, when he won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, Malkin is scheduled to join a Penguins contingent that will include general manager Ray Shero and team ticket sales account executive/Russian translator George Birman tonight at Toronto's Elgin Theatre.

Malkin is a finalist for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the league's MVP as voted upon by select members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and the Lester B. Pearson Award, which goes to the most outstanding player according to the NHL's Players Association.

However, Malkin is not favored to win either honor.

Fellow Russian rival and Washington Capitals left wing Alexander Ovechkin is expected to claim the Hart and Pearson awards - leaving Malkin again in a position he knows all too well: second.

Malkin, whose 106 regular-season points were second to Ovechkin's 112, was the second overall pick in the 2004 entry draft behind Ovechkin.

Additionally, Malkin is only a week removed from a disappointing second-place finish with the Penguins, who lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final.

Malkin is also widely considered only the second-best player on his team - behind Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who last season won the Hart and Pearson awards and the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer.

Crosby said prior to the Stanley Cup playoffs that he hoped Malkin would become the fourth Penguins player to win the Hart and/or Pearson. Current majority co-owner Mario Lemieux won the Hart on three occasions (1988, '93 and '96) and Pearson four times (1986, '88, '93 and '96). Former right wing Jaromir Jagr won the Hart once (1999) and Pearson twice (1999, 2000).

Crosby won the Hart and Pearson last year for the first time.

Malkin is a finalist for each honor due in large part to his superb play in the aftermath of Crosby's right ankle injury in mid-January. Crosby missed 29 games due to a high ankle sprain, but the Penguins went 16-9-4 in those contests, as Malkin scored 20 goals and recorded 46 points.

Malkin finished the regular season with a career-best 47 goals, but his playmaking skill stood out in Crosby's absence. Malkin registered multiple assists in eight games missed by Crosby, compared to only five with Crosby healthy.

Still, Malkin's miserable past few weeks - he was widely criticized for scoring only two goals and recording just five points over the Penguins' final 10 playoff games (he finished fifth in overall playoff scoring with 22 points) - will likely conclude tonight with Ovechkin besting him for the Hart and Pearson.

Ovechkin won the Art Ross Trophy. His 65 goals were 13 more than second-leading goal-scorer Ilya Kovalcuk of the Atlanta Thrashers, and Ovechkin led the Capitals to a surprise first-place finish in the Southeast Division.

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