Analysis: Time for Pens to unite Crosby, Malkin
ST. LOUIS — Evgeni Malkin is understandably tired of explaining himself.
"I'm a winger," he said again Friday. "That is where I play."
Agreed, except that Malkin wasn't specific enough. He should play with center Sidney Crosby on the Penguins' top line — all the time.
The Penguins shouldn't overthink this. They should simply watch the video from the overtime victory at Nashville on Thursday night.
The footage won't lie.
"(Malkin) had one shift in overtime where it looked like he was tired. We were in our end for about 40 seconds — and then the next thing I'm looking at on the bench is them on a rush, (Malkin) stripping the puck and setting up a couple of more chances for Sid," Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said, shaking his head in disbelief.
At their best, Crosby and Malkin are arguably two of the three best offensive players in the world. Witness their 17 combined points in the past five games and the Penguins' 4-0-1 mark in those contests.
Each would benefit from playing with an elite winger, but neither will if both stay at center because the Penguins are strapped by the salary cap. They have committed $21.4 million annually to Crosby, Malkin and center Jordan Staal; $5 million to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury; and more than $18 million to five defensemen.
The Penguins are good enough to win the Stanley Cup as constructed — especially at full health, which they aren't. They'll be a better Cup bet with Crosby and Malkin on the same line, and they're blessed that Malkin possesses the wiliness and tools to transform into the franchise's best winger since Jaromir Jagr won five scoring titles between 1995 and 2001.
The bullish strength with which Malkin performed at Nashville, shielding the puck offensively and taking it away defensively, was Jagr-esque. Bylsma said the significant time Crosby and Malkin played together in the game was the result of a strategy "to get quality players on the ice (together) more often."
Great plan — he should try it again tonight by skating Crosby and Malkin with Kunitz against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. When Staal returns, his former third-line wingers, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, can join him on the second line.
If that line doesn't strike fear into the heart of opponents — well, so what• The top line should leave defensive pairs weak in the knees.
"We used to try different things — a shadow to one side, basically not allowing them to have the puck. A lot of it was designed to not let them get speed," defenseman Paul Martin said of the strategy his former team, New Jersey, used when Crosby and Malkin were on the ice together. "Part of it is tough, though. It's just accepting that, when they're together, they're going to get chances. You're giving up this but giving them that. There is no real way to stop them from getting opportunities when they're together on the same line."
The only way to stop Crosby and Malkin is for the Penguins to keep them apart.Additional Information:
With Evgeni Malkin now a full-time winger • and since he and Sidney Crosby are white-hot of late, combining for 17 points in the past five games • perhaps the time is right to make them full-time linemates. Here's how they've helped each other during the regular season in their careers:
• Crosby career goals: 189
• Malkin assists on those goals: 56 (29.6 percent)
• Malkin career goals: 146
• Crosby assists on those goals: 60 (41.1 percent)
Source: Elias Sports Bureau