NHL stars marvel at Malkin's uniqueness
Evgeni Malkin has a chokehold on the Art Ross Trophy and is an overwhelming favorite to claim his first Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
The awards are nice, but the acclaim his game is receiving from a multitude of NHL stars is just as impressive.
Malkin isn't just the game's top scorer, but plays with an artistry that makes even future Hall-of-Famers drool.
"He has been nothing short of spectacular," Ottawa star Daniel Alfredsson said last weekend. "He seems to be able to create offense at will out there."
Malkin's mastery of hockey's simple elements are clear but not what impress Alfredsson. Instead, Alfredsson — hardly unaccomplished himself, with 413 goals in 16 NHL seasons — marvels at Malkin's penchant for making the unusual look spectacular.
Malkin's quirks are many, and they rarely fail. Alfredsson simply smiled when discussing Malkin's tendency to skate parallel with the boards, duck a hit while skating on just one leg, and still manage to maintain control while simultaneously preparing another maneuver.
"He does a lot of things with incredible speed in tight areas," Alfredsson said. "That's the toughest thing to do. That's what impresses me. The balance that he has is just incredible."
Along with his balance, many players are amazed by Malkin's ability to anticipate plays.
On some nights, Malkin almost appears to be playing a different game than everyone else on the ice. His daring darts through center ice always see Malkin make the first man miss. He also produces the radar-like ability to steal passes, something Mario Lemieux once showcased regularly.
"He anticipates what a defensive player is going to do before it happens," Alfredsson said. "He has his moves all ready. It's pretty impressive."
Sometimes, Malkin even anticipates what the goaltender has planned. He helped give the Penguins a 1-0 lead against New Jersey on Sunday night because he picked goalie Martin Brodeur's pocket behind the net, and set up left wing Chris Kunitz before the NHL's all-time wins leader could return to the net.
No one steals the puck from Brodeur, who is widely regarded as the best puck-handling goaltender of all time. But Malkin made it look easy. Instead of guessing which way Brodeur would launch the puck, Malkin skated directly at him, forcing the goaltender to freeze.
"It's just a matter of reading the play real well," Brodeur said.
This season, Malkin is reading every play as if it were a book.
"He can beat you so many different ways," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "He can shoot, pass, do so many things. He is just so skilled."
Malkin's skill is easy to detect, but perhaps it is his creativity that has separated him from the NHL pack this season.
"I love watching him play," Vancouver star Henrik Sedin said earlier this season. "He is different."
And for Malkin, different has been good.
"He's got that one-on-one ability and he's got the confidence to pull things off," Alfredsson said. "You always need a defenseman on him, and you really need a forward on him, too. He's so good right now."