Kovacevic: Malkin has one issue, and he knows it
TribLIVE Sports Videos
The timing couldn't have been much worse.
There was Evgeni Malkin late Monday night at Consol Energy Center, well after the Penguins' 3-1 dunking of the Ducks, still visibly dissatisfied with himself. Even though he'd just been the strongest performer on either side. Even though he'd just made a Magellan-like voyage around the entire Anaheim franchise to set up Brian Gibbons' winning redirect.
And there, waiting for Malkin to wrap up his postgame workout, was a small delegation from Russia's Olympic team. Chief among them was Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, soon to be the national coach in Sochi and once a national-team defenseman in the old Soviet era of Viktor Tikhonov and Red Army dominance.
Remember that style of play?
Remember how the puck would ping-pong systematically from Igor Larionov to Sergei Makarov to Slava Fetisov to Alexei Kasatonov and, only after poor Team Poland had been dissected and demoralized, Vladimir Krutov would finish with a tap-in and a shrug?
By the final horn …
“Those guys would get maybe 10 shots the whole game,” Malkin was telling me through a small grin after the meeting. “They would never shoot until for sure it would be a goal.”
Yeah, well, here's hoping Bilyaletdinov and friends offered nothing more than pleasantries. Because if there's one thing the Penguins' dormant superstar doesn't need right now, it's advice on the merits of passing up a shot.
You know the numbers: Malkin has three goals in 21 games, none in his past 14 games for the longest such slump of his career. There's no question he's still done good things, not least of which are the 17 assists that rank fourth in the NHL. But it remains beyond reason, beyond justification that a scorer of this caliber could go more than a month without so much as a cheesy empty-netter.
He knows it, too.
“I'm happy, of course, when the team wins and when I can make a pass to Gibby for a goal,” Malkin continued in our talk. “But I know I have to score. I know I have to shoot more.”
“Sometimes, like in this game, I see Kuny or Nealer and want to pass to them because they're open,” he said, referring to Chris Kunitz and James Neal, “but I know I have good chances to shoot the puck.”
Right down the high slot, too, I interjected. Twice on Monday between the Ducks' hash marks, countless times over the season.
“Yes, I know. And I know I have to shoot.”
At least that much appears to be clear.
So is this: Malkin isn't lacking in goals because he's lazy or he's lost a step or he isn't as strong or he's suddenly shy about playing in traffic or he's somehow lowered his skill level or any other silly supposition someone might make.
He simply isn't shooting.
Don't overthink it.
His 56 shots are tied for 54th in the league and rank third on his own team behind Sidney Crosby's 76 and Kunitz's 70. This despite heavy power-play duty. This despite Crosby drawing the opponent's checking units. This despite 21 shifts per game.
I'll save you the math: Malkin is averaging one shot for every eight times he goes over the boards.
The sharpest perspective can be found, I think, by looking back at Malkin's MVP season in 2011-12, when he gunned his way to 50 goals: He registered a league-leading 339 shots and finished fifth with 117 missed shots. Including the shots that were blocked, he averaged an incredible 6.63 attempted shots per game.
The current figure: 3.95.
I reminded Malkin that he was the one most vocally imploring Jarome Iginla last spring to shoot more, often yelling, “Shoot, Iggy! Shoot!”
“I know,” Malkin replied. “Now it's me.”
Or maybe a teammate needs to do the same for him now.
Maybe the captain.
“I think it's kind of obvious for anyone that when you're not scoring, you have to shoot more, go to the net more, maybe be a little more selfish,” Crosby said. He recently shed a slump of his own, of course. “I'm sure Geno's aware of that. He doesn't lack confidence. He just likes to look for the open guy. His goals will come.”
Sooner rather than later, Malkin promised as we parted ways Monday.
“I'm going to shoot. You'll see,” he said. “Next game, score.”
That would be Wednesday night in Washington.
Here's guessing he'll react with more than a shrug.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Snow, freezing rain, bitter cold coming to Western Pa.
- Southbound McKnight Road closed for power line repairs
- Fallingwater among Wright buildings nominated for World Heritage List
- Jerome Bettis to be enshrined in hall of fame
- Tennessee quarterback Peterman considers transfer to Pitt
- Familiar Downtown Pittsburgh presence lost arm, leg to train
- Suggestions are aplenty on what Penguins need to break through
- Gulls fleeing frozen Great Lakes fill skies over Pittsburgh’s Point
- Iraqi libraries ransacked
- Voters opt for ‘Don’t Know’ in 2016 presidential race, poll finds
- As banking goes mobile, branch closures rip through local economy