Tim Benz: Time for Evgeni Malkin to follow his own advice
On locker cleanout day following the Pittsburgh Penguins’ sweep at the hands of New York Islanders, Kris Letang was indignant at suggestions that he may need to change his game.
You know, be more structured and patient. Take fewer chances. Play more conservative.
The response was not one of agreement.
“I don’t think the (answer) is to change my whole game,” Letang said on April 18. “I am not going to (allow) three plays in my whole year (to change) the type of game I play, you know?
“Maybe next year you are saying, ‘We have Kris on our lineup, and he doesn’t do anything offensively,’ so are you going to rip me apart because I don’t produce anything?”
Conversely, after the Game 2 loss to New York, Evgeni Malkin pointed the finger of blame at himself and the rest of the players.
“We should probably play simple,” Malkin said. “We try to pass across so much. Maybe from the blue line, shoot to the net, and two guys look for rebounds.
“It’s not a fun game. It’s not a pretty game right now. We understand it’s playoffs. Against the Islanders, they play simple. We need to start to play simple, too.”
And the former Hart Trophy winner also criticized the team’s effort after the sweep was complete.
“They were a little bit hungrier,” Malkin said of the Islanders. “They want more to win. They were blocking shots, forecheck, backcheck. They looked like they want more to win.”
Malkin is good at that. Great actually. He does it all the time. Even in his second language, no one in that locker room gives a rah-rah speech about what the Penguins need to do better than Geno.
Yet, no one is guiltier of what they are doing wrong than him, too.
In 2019, of all the Penguins who were guilty of making too many turnovers, playing too loose, forcing plays excessively, taking bad penalties, number 71 was a bigger offender than anyone.
As our Mark Madden documented this week, “Malkin was a team-worst minus-25, made a team-high 84 turnovers and had a team-most 89 penalty minutes. … Malkin scored just 21 goals, his fewest in a nonlockout year besides 2010-11, when a knee injury ended his season after 43 games (and 15 goals).”
So, when some tweets emerged Wednesday from Russian “Sport-Express” NHL writer Igor Eronko illustrating Malkin whipping himself with a wet noodle, we shouldn’t have been surprised.
Malkin acknowledged his season was a failure
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) May 1, 2019
Malkin, preparing to play for team Russia during the World Championships, also refused to get upset at the trade talk surrounding him of late and acknowledged it was warranted because he wasn’t good enough last year.
Malkin to @galkevich32: I'm used to the talks I'm get traded so it doesn't get me nervous. Now I'm in the team Russia and I'll try to prove I'm good.I had a bad season and I'm going to get me out of the pit.Sometimes criticism is justified. This time it's probably justified #Pens
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) May 1, 2019
He is saying all the right things in the wake of defeat. However, let’s see if he actually follows through on the comments for the Russians better than he did for the Penguins.
How can the guy who says stuff like that also be the same guy who reportedly rebuked instructions from head coach Mike Sullivan to come back deeper into the zone to help support his defensemen with the puck?
Malkin saying one thing and doing another is consistent with his mercurial personality, and it fuels the debate about whether or not the Penguins should investigate trading him.
On the one hand, he’s still a point-per-game team leader, with a Hall of Fame resume and talent enough to continue to be an NHL superstar.
On the other, he can be finicky, stubborn, and uncoachable, and he may be trying to channel his 25-year-old peak-self into his 33-year-old reality of a body.
It’s clear Malkin is never going to listen to Sullivan. I just wish he’d listen to himself.