Malkin says he let down Penguins in playoffs last season
Evgeni Malkin spent his summer haunted at home in Russia.
“Last year (was) very important for us, but we (did) not win again,” Malkin said after one of the Penguins' final training-camp practices. “I think a lot. My head is always thinking about a loss. I think about my game.
“It (was) a little bit tough all summer.”
Understandably, his thoughts turned to numbers:
76: The number of millions of dollars (before taxes) guaranteed to come his way on the eight-year extension he signed in July.
4: The number of Junes that have passed without him touching the Stanley Cup.
0: The number of points he had produced in a four-game playoff loss to Boston with a return to the Cup Final on the line.
“It's my job to score,” Malkin said. “We lost. I (did) not score.
It's a bruise that has not healed.
Good, not great
His eighth NHL season begins Thursday night at Consol Energy Center. The New Jersey Devils are visiting, as they were when Malkin debuted on Oct. 18, 2006. That night, a 20-year-old who barely knew how to pronounce his full name in English won over Western Pennsylvania with a reach and a poke that pushed a puck behind Devils legend Martin Brodeur.
He is 27 now, and a lot different.
Once shy, Malkin is now a pitchman for Head & Shoulders shampoos. Previously preferring a bachelor lifestyle, Malkin is now building a suburban home with space for his parents and a family of his own.
Past complications with his Russian hometown and brother were mostly resolved last fall when Malkin spent the NHL lockout playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk and spending time with Denis.
No longer in any countrymen's shadow, Malkin is expected to contribute scoring and leadership for Team Russia at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.
He is a presumptive Hall-of-Famer while still in his prime, with an NHL resume that includes:
• 560 points
• 217 goals
• 2 scoring titles
• 1 regular-season MVP
• 1 postseason MVP
“One Cup,” Malkin said. “I think it's a good career for me. Just good. It's not great. (The) great thing for me is to win Cup (No.) 2.”
With a chance to do that last spring, with an opportunity to cement not only his legacy, but also help cement the legacies of Penguins teammate Sidney Crosby, coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero, Malkin could not produce a single point against Boston.
“Maybe I tried to score a little too hard; I don't know,” Malkin said. “It's tough.”
Need for focus
Clearly, Malkin remains the same in one significant — and possibly problematic — way.
Shero lauded him for “caring so much” about the Penguins' fortunes as a team. Bylsma offered that he internalizes ineffective shifts, let alone unproductive periods, “really hard, too hard” when the Penguins lose.
This approach, which Malkin conceded is not “good for me,” stems from his inability — before the Penguins' Cup win in 2009 — to win a championship at any level, even though he often was the best hockey player at that particular level.
This approach proved troublesome as the Eastern Conference final shifted from Pittsburgh to Boston with the Penguins down, 0-2, and facing a must-win Game 3 at TD Garden.
What looked like Malkin's strongest performance of the series — linemate James Neal called him “the best player on the ice for either team” — ended with him overanalyzing missed opportunities to score or set up a winning goal over multiple overtime periods.
Malkin blankly stared upon recalling those missed chances.
“I need (to) focus my head better,” he said. “(Physically), I (can) feel good, but I need (to) focus my head to (the) positives of my game.
“Maybe that (will) helps me (the) next time.”
Job to do
Speaking English better than ever, Malkin talks like a young man with a keen sense of the present and future.
He will soon become a historic figure in Russian hockey as either a key contributor to a gold-medal winning Olympic squad or as part of the host country's squad that failed on the biggest international stage.
He is part of inarguably the NHL's most dominant 1-2 offensive tandem, but until he and Crosby lead the Penguins to the Cup again they will rank behind franchise icons Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, and current Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as a Dyamic Duo that dominated when it mattered only once.
He can score 50 goals to go with recording 110 points and win a third scoring title and a second MVP, yet nothing he does this NHL season will matter unless he does it in the Cup Final in June.
Malkin has thought about all of this, and he thought about it all summer — along with another number.
“Five years (would be) too long,” Malkin said of the Penguins' possible Cup drought were they not to win this season.
“Last year if we score more we win. I did not score. This year I just (need to) do my job.”