Pens' Malkin regains prolific scoring touch
Just when the Penguins need him most, the old Evgeni Malkin has surfaced.
Malkin, 10 months removed from significant knee surgery and a couple of years removed from the best-player-in-the-world discussion, is the NHL's hottest player.
And maybe its best.
With so many key players out of the lineup, Malkin is being leaned on more heavily than any point in his career. The star center is clearly up to the challenge.
"And he needs to be," left wing Matt Cooke said. "He's the guy right now. He can't look anywhere else. It's got to be on him, and he knows that. He understands that, and he's playing very well."
Malkin sustained a torn ACL on Feb. 4 against Buffalo that ended his season. The first month of the 2011-12 season saw Malkin battle knee pain, to the point where he missed seven early games. He played well in October, producing seven points in six games.
Since the beginning of November, Malkin has registered 29 points in 20 games. Without Sidney Crosby in the lineup during the past five games, Malkin has six goals and six assists.
And finally, playing against Buffalo for the first time since the injury, Malkin produced a virtuoso performance against the Sabres, tying a career-high with five points.
"It was a long time where I (worried) about my knee," Malkin said. "I started a little slow. Now I feel a little bit better."
Malkin's 36 points are good for fourth in the NHL, and he trails injured Philadelphia star Claude Giroux and Toronto winger Phil Kessel by three points for the league lead.
He has played four fewer games than Kessel and two fewer than Giroux. Only Giroux and center Sidney Crosby (who has only played eight games) possess a higher points per game total than Malkin's 1.38.
Malkin insists the Art Ross Trophy, which he claimed with 113 points in 2009, isn't on his mind.
"I'm not thinking about my points," Malkin said. "I'm just starting to find my level and am trying to play better every game."
With important players such as Crosby, center Jordan Staal, and defensemen Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin out of the lineup, the Penguins need Malkin to carry the offense. He is doing so with a newfound goal-scoring touch.
Consider that Malkin scored only 15 goals in 43 games last season before the injury. He has 15 this season in only 26 games.
Malkin also had 15 goals through 26 games in his rookie season. His 36 points are the second most of his career through 26 games.
"I know Staalsy and Sid are very important to us," Malkin said. "I'm trying my best."
And right now, his best might be better than anything another NHL player can offer.
The Malkin of old, the goal-scoring machine who operates with precision on the power play, is back in top form. It should also be noted that Malkin is centering right wing James Neal, whose 18 goals rank fourth in the league. His playmaking skills are in top form, also.
"Playing with him is so much fun," Neal said.
The Penguins hope the fun is only getting started.
"I'm not surprised by what he's doing," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "He's always great. He's been great all year. You knew the points would come."
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