Malkin's instincts on shot block prove costly for Penguins
During a game against Calgary on Monday, Evgeni Malkin made a split-second decision he still is paying for today.
Malkin didn't play Friday night against New Jersey and probably won't play Sunday afternoon against Florida thanks to a shoulder injury he suffered while diving to the ice to block a Micheal Ferland slap shot.
It's easy to say the high-scoring All-Star center never should drop to the ice to block a shot unless the Stanley Cup is on the line because his offensive production is too valuable to the Penguins to take that risk.
Heck, Malkin admitted as much after struggling through a 40-minute practice Saturday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena.
“No more blocking shots,” he said.
The reality of the situation is a lot more complicated than that.
A lot was going through Malkin's mind in the moments leading to his snap decision.
It was a big game, with Calgary coming in on a nine-game winning streak and the Penguins winners of five in a row. The score was tied 2-2 in the second period.
Calgary was at the end of a long shift in the offensive zone that started, Malkin said, with his turnover at the red line.
A puck came slowly rolling out from behind the net toward Ferland near the right point. If he shoots and scores, Malkin would feel responsible.
So in that instant, knowing all those things but lacking time to weigh the consequences of his actions, he lunged head-first into a speeding puck.
“It's not perfect, but it's instincts,” Malkin said.
As much as Mike Sullivan would like to see his star players avoid such situations, he knows it's probably futile to try to coach against an athlete's ingrained competitiveness.
“Players are going to make decisions in a fraction of a second, and they're going to make decisions that they think are going to help us win,” Sullivan said.
“Certainly, we don't want to see Geno get hurt, or any of our guys for that matter, but the nature of the game is that it's a belligerent game. We all run that risk every time we lace up our skates.”
Ian Cole has set a Penguins single-season record with 172 blocked shots and counting. As such, he could easily knock Malkin's technique for throwing himself haphazardly into the path of a speeding puck.
And he did, a little bit. Ultimately, though, he was impressed with his teammate's guts.
“Initially, I thought that hit him in the side of the head, so I was cringing at first,” Cole said. “Diving head-first isn't usually the best way to put your toe into the water as far as blocked shots go.
“It takes some courage for him to go do that, and the given play, it called for that. The way he stepped up and did that, the whole bench was on their feet, giving him some taps and giving him some love. It was great. It's unfortunate now that he's out, but I know the guys really saw that and really commended his bravery.”
Brave but banged up, Malkin has to figure out how to best navigate the final three weeks of the regular season.
Gritting his teeth and playing through the injury isn't an option. He did that Wednesday in Philadelphia and didn't like the results.
“I feel like I can't shoot because it's pain every time in my shoulder,” he said.
Instead, he will use a mixture of rest and rehab to get ready for the games when the Stanley Cup is literally on the line.
“I want to play for sure, but it's a long season,” Malkin said. “(I want to be) ready for playoffs. A couple of extra days, I'll start to work a little bit more in the gym and be ready when I start playing again. I hope I come back soon and be ready because it's more important (to play) in the playoffs right now.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.