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Stanley Cup Final

Malkin feeling 'better' about production

Penguins forward brings five-game point streak into Stanley Cup Final against Sharks

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Twice during Evgeni Malkin's session with reporters Sunday, he mentioned how his game in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs hasn't looked at all like his performance during the Pittsburgh Penguins' run in 2009. 

He had 36 points in 24 games in 2009, helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. He has 15 points in 17 games in this year's playoffs, including a stretch of six games without a point.

"I want better," Malkin said. 

He thinks better is coming. He might be right.

Video: Malkin interview video

Malkin enters Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) riding a five-game point streak with one goal and five assists. He assisted on each of forward Bryan Rust's goals in Pittsburgh's 2-1 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I missed one month before playoffs [because of an injury] and it was a little bit tough to come back, but now I think my confidence came back," Malkin said. "I feel so much better. My game, yeah, it's not like in 2009, but I think it's coming back."

Malkin isn't alone in thinking the Sharks are going to have their hands full with him. 

"I agree with him, I think his best is yet to come too," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm4: Malkin winds through traffic and scores

Sullivan then explained why.

"As that [Eastern Conference Final] series went on, he started to play more of a straight-ahead game, a north game," Sullivan said. "I think when he plays that way he's really tough to handle, when he challenges opponents with his speed and his power. Obviously, his puck skills are evident, but his speed and his power, I think, are really tough to handle, and I thought as that series went on he played more of a north game, a speed game. When he plays that way, he's a much more effective player individually and [so is] his line as a group."

There are reasons why it took Malkin awhile to reach this dominant level. He missed the last 15 games of the season and Game 1 against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference First Round because of an upper-body injury he sustained March 11 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

If missing time wasn't hard enough, he also had to deal with outside speculation that the Penguins didn't need him in the lineup. They went 14-2-0 without him and discovered what has been their best line through the past two-and-a-half months, with Nick Bonino centering Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

Hagelin and Kessel were playing with Malkin but had tepid results. They've combined with Bonino to produce 45 points in the playoffs after scoring 43 points in the last 15 games of the regular season, including 12 points on four goals and eight assists in a 7-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings on March 26.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Crosby tallies PPG on Malkin's feed

"Yeah, it's a little bit tough because I see the team win [14] games and the media started talking about myself," Malkin said. "I read a couple of things -- maybe we'll trade him because the team plays good without Malkin." 

Malkin's confidence never wavered, though. If anything, it was buoyed when he came back in Game 2 against the New York Rangers in the first round and had seven points in the next four games, including two goals and four points in Game 4.

"I know if I play my level I bring the team more power," Malkin said. "I can play like 20 minutes. I can play on the power play. I can score and I can help the team to win. If I play my level, the team plays better."

Another reason Malkin hasn't been a dominant scorer this postseason is because the Penguins haven't necessarily needed him to be. They have more scoring depth than they had in 2009. 

Seven years ago, Malkin and Sidney Crosby had to carry the Penguins, and they did, combining for 67 points. This season, the Penguins can rely on Bonino's line, or even fourth-line production from Matt Cullen, who has six points. The winning goal in each of the Penguins' first six wins of the playoffs came from bottom-six forwards.

Malkin is averaging 17:51 of ice time in this playoff run; he played 20:57 in 2009.

"We have four lines; maybe in 2009 we had two lines," Malkin said. "Now we're a different team, a different coach and we use all four lines like the same time. I'm not playing over 20 [minutes]. It's fine for me … but I like my game. Every game I feel better."

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