More changes for Penguins' Malkin
Evgeni Malkin can't keep track of all his wingers the past two seasons.
The number is closing in on double digits if, as coach Dan Bylsma said is likely, Chuck Kobasew replaces Beau Bennett to Malkin's right when the Penguins play the Oilers at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
Bennett is day-to-day with a lower body injury that limited him to two shifts in the third period at Tampa Bay on Saturday.
“We (are) always changing lines,” Malkin said.
Actually, it only seems that way.
Since winning his second scoring title and first MVP two years ago, Malkin has played with left wingers that fit into three categories:
• Ineffective: Zach Boychuk and Eric Tangradi.
• Out of place: Jarome Iginla and Tanner Glass.
• Promising: Bennett and Jussi Jokinen.
Malkin, who has scored only 10 goals in the last 36 regular-season games, said Monday it is not their job to make his life easier.
He is the superstar to whom the Penguins committed $76 million in July. He is the only current NHL player to have won an MVP in the regular and postseason.
However, even as Malkin conceded his production should remain at a consistently elite level no matter his wingers, he could fairly look upon Penguins captain Sidney Crosby with envious eyes.
Crosby, the NHL leader as of Monday with nine points, has spent the healthy portions of his last three seasons playing with Chris Kunitz to his left and Pascal Dupuis to his right. Those three forwards have comprised the most productive line in hockey when Crosby has not missed games because of concussion symptoms or a broken jaw.
“We've seen with them how good they are because they (have) played a long time,” Malkin said. “When you have three guys (together) a long time… I think we need that.”
The “we” to whom Malkin referred is Jokinen and right winger James Neal, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.
Bennett had replaced Neal, and now Kobasew — a tryout-contract invitee to training camp — is slotted to fill in for Bennett.
“I'm not going to change the way I play,” Kobasew said. “You try to hunt pucks and get (him) the puck, let (him) do his magic.
“Communication is huge.”
It is almost everything regarding successfully meshing with Malkin, Neal has said.
Malkin is reputably direct and loud when communicating with linemates, and the conversations are usually one-sided. A winger must toe the line of holding his own while also keeping Malkin happy.
Kunitz played the left wing with Malkin and Neal during the 2012-13 season when Crosby was injured. He kept things simple — on the bench and on the ice.
“Part of it is doing what's expected, part of it is being reliable and consistent enough so they trust,” Kunitz said. “Players with that type of all-world skill that can do everything out there, it seems they just want … to trust where you're going to be (and) expect it to be done every time.”
Neal has done that for Malkin, though not as often as the narrative suggests.
They have played together in only 13 of the Penguins' last 35 regular-season games and in just 76.9 percent (103 of 134) since Bylsma made Neal the right winger for Malkin.
While waiting on a friend he playfully calls “Lazy” to return, Malkin said he must adjust his mentality while working with Jokinen and whomever as the right winger.
“I try to pass more because I know how good ‘Lazy' is, and he shoots (best),” Malkin said of Neal. “I (will) not change my game, but I must score goals more when I know ‘Lazy' is not (playing) with me.
“I (will) try to shoot more.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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