Rossi: Malkin paid like Crosby; needs to play like him
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Over the last three years, I've come to know pretty well this talented Penguins center everybody calls Geno, but your guess is as good as mine as to the reason he was without a goal in 14 of 15 games entering Saturday.
Think about that. Think about this: Prior to playing at Vancouver last night, Malkin needed 20 goals in the Penguins' final 33 games to match his career-worst total — 33, which he hit three seasons ago as a rookie.
Even considering a right-shoulder injury that cost him seven games, this season is bordering on embarrassing for Malkin, who began it with legitimate claim to the tag "NHL's Best Player" as the playoff MVP on a defending Stanley Cup champion and the reigning league scoring champion.
Right now, he is to the best player debate what Conan O'Brien is to "The Tonight Show." Actually, O'Brien's future with NBC might be more promising than the Penguins' Stanley Cup hopes if Malkin doesn't rediscover is galloping greatness.
They'll be lucky to win a playoff round with this version of Malkin.
How fortunate for Malkin, the Penguins' most talented player, that he is not their most scrutinized, even though he and captain Sidney Crosby each count $8.7 million against the salary cap.
Crosby was a marvel this past week in Western Canada, expertly handling off-ice responsibilities that Malkin usually begs to ignore (even in the comforts of Pittsburgh) — often using the excuse of a limited understanding of English to avoid PR situations that Crosby has handled since he was, oh, 13.
I know that Malkin understands English well enough to routinely give Crosby a break from granting interviews and shooting commercials to promote his team and sport. He chooses not to do much more than just play hockey, but he can just play hockey because of Crosby's willingness to do all the off-ice heavy lifting befitting a true superstar.
Well, Malkin's hockey isn't holding up his end of the bargain — and Crosby has surpassed him as the Penguins' best player.
Crosby is on pace for a career-best season in goals and faceoff percentage. That he was the superstar center absorbing the heat during the Penguins' recent losing ways, even though he was the player least responsible for those losses, only enhanced Crosby's Hart Trophy credentials by my voting eyes.
Crosby joked Wednesday in Calgary that he would "stay in the cave" in Western Canada, leaving his hotel only for practices and games to avoid a frenzied scene on the streets and in restaurants.
Malkin owes Crosby the NHL equivalent of covering his room-service tab. Without a turnaround by this talented center everybody calls Geno, Crosby's most impressive season to date will end with a bitter taste and no Cup to wash it away.
Columnist Joe Starkey and beat reporter Rob Rossi take the circle for this week's question: How should the Penguins help struggling center Evgeni Malkin?
Rossi: Reuniting him with playoff playmate Max Talbot was a shrewd start, and keeping those two together on a line (along with winger Ruslan Fedotenko) would be a wise move given their past success. However, may I suggest something savvy• Trade a late-round pick to Minnesota for winger Petr Sykora, who scored a bunch of goals the last two years playing alongside Malkin as Geno chased scoring titles. Seems the potential reward could be worth a risk.
Starkey: May I suggest another cooking show on the Internet• That's more likely than getting Malkin a legitimate sniper on the wing. I wonder how much Malkin's shoulder has affected him this season. I know the Penguins did the right thing by taking him off the left point on the power play. It's mind-boggling that they actually put him there again. Assuming he's healthy, he'll figure it out. He'll be fine.