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Pens, Malkin fail to respond

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

DETROIT -- It would be wildly inaccurate to blame Evgeni Malkin for the Penguins' 3-0 loss Monday in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final.

But he sure didn't help -- unless zero shots, a team-worst minus-2 rating and barely a discernible pulse should be considered helpful.

Malkin became a huge story going into the game because of his largely dispirited play -- 10 shots, one goal and a noticeable lack of energy in the past five games -- and his comments in yesterday's Tribune-Review.

"I'm just tired," Malkin said the day before the game. "Practice is long. The season is long. I feel bad."

He must feel worse today, what with the Penguins buried in a 2-0 hole going into Game 3 Wednesday night at Mellon Arena.

Malkin's entire line somehow failed to record a shot.

Afterward, Penguins coach Michel Therrien deflected the first reporter's question, which was, "You had a conversation with Malkin (Sunday) about him being a leader in this game. How do you explain him having zero shots?"

Instead of an explanation, Therrien offered up some sour grapes.

"It's really tough to generate offense against that team," he said. "They're good on obstruction. It's going to be tough to generate any type of offense if the rules remain the same. It's the first time we're facing a team (where) the obstruction is there."

Please. The Red Wings have skated circles around the Penguins for five consecutive periods, outshooting them, 59-29, over that span and outscoring them, 7-0.

As Penguins winger Marian Hossa put it, when asked about the obstruction charge, "If they're doing (anything) illegal, they're doing it smart."

Who would have thought that after rolling through the first three rounds with a 12-2 record, the Penguins would look so utterly feeble in the final?

The reasons are many.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been ordinary, at best. The Penguins' other stars, Hossa and Sidney Crosby, are barely noticeable, though Crosby had six shots last night and is facing the best defenseman in the world, Nicklas Lidstrom, on most shifts. Their role players are doing nothing compared to Detroit's.

And, oh yes, the Red Wings are pretty good.

Detroit is incredibly systematic in everything it does -- from the way it enters the Penguins' zone to the way a forward rolls back to cover for defenseman Niklas Kronwall when he lays a monster hit (which he did again last night, ruining Jarkko Ruutu early in the first period).

One of the more underrated Red Wings is center Valtteri Filppula, who scored a gorgeous goal and often was pitted against Malkin.

"He's a great player; the main thing is to stay close and not give him room," Filppula said of Malkin. "I really have to work."

Malkin needs to work harder. He was a wild buck for two rounds, plus the opener against the Flyers, before suddenly losing his jump.

Considering all the rest the Penguins have gotten between rounds, it's hard to believe Malkin is worn down.

Sure, he needs more help, but one shot through two games• For a guy who's a Hart Trophy finalist -- an alleged difference-maker -- he has made no difference whatsoever.

And please don't give me the "inexperience" excuse. This is Henrik Zetterberg's first Stanley Cup final, too, and he looks pretty good.

There's still time, of course. Conventional wisdom says you're not in trouble in a playoff series until you lose a home game, and it was nice to see the Penguins show some spunk in the latter stages last night.

Maybe Malkin finds that extra gear in Game 3. Therrien is banking on it.

"We've got to keep supporting him," Therrien said. "Eventually, players like this, usually they find ways."

Based on everything we know about these Penguins, they'll be feisty and tough to play against at Mellon Arena. But no matter what conventional wisdom says, they're already in trouble.

Deep trouble.




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