Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who is coming off ACL/MCL surgery, has not looked like himself ever since he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009. The Penguins will need that to change, though, with the uncertainty surrounding Sidney Crosby.
Before Malkin blew out his knee last February, nearly a month had gone by since Crosby had suffered his concussion. The Penguins survived that stretch; but when Malkin went down, the offense was gutted and Dan Bylsma’s crew was forced to start winning low-scoring games, so on and so forth.
The 25-year-old Russian had back-to-back 100-point campaigns in 2007-08 and 2008-09, which was capped off by him winning the Conn Smythe. Malkin even finished second in the Hart Trophy voting in each of those seasons. In 2009-10, though, ‘Geno had a quiet 77 points in 67 games and only had 37 points in 43 games last year before injuring his knee.
Malkin has been ahead of schedule all summer with his rehab. He is said to be in the best shape of his life and is working out rigorously. Put simply, Malkin is preparing himself for a big season – which is great news for Bylsma and company.
With a fully healthy Crosby, the Pens are a Stanley Cup front-runner. On the contrary, without No. 87 in the lineup, they are nothing more than a playoff contender. This is where Malkin comes in.
If Crosby is out for any time, Pittsburgh will need Malkin to revert to his dominant ways from three years ago; it would soften the blow and give the Pens a true top center in Sid’s absence. Between Malkin and Jordan Staal, that is still a stellar combo down the middle. Even if Sid can play from the season’s onset, having Malkin at the top of his game would be nothing but beneficial. When those two are rolling, it’s the best one-two punch at the center position, and the Pens offense is difficult for opponents to contain.
Any hockey fan knows what Malkin is capable of; when he’s at his best, he’s one of the NHL’s more dominant players. With or without Crosby, the Pens need Malkin to be at his best when the puck drops on the 2011-12 season.
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