SAN JOSE -- Evgeni Malkin came into the Stanley Cup Final predicting his best was yet to come for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I feel so much better," Malkin said at Media Day exactly one week ago. "My game, yeah, it's not like in 2009, but I think it's coming back."
Malkin has no points in three games against the San Jose Sharks. He enters Game 4 against the Sharks at SAP Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) with no goals in six straight games and one in his past 15.
So, is Malkin frustrated that his prediction isn't coming true?
"No," he said emphatically after practice Sunday. "What do you mean? We lead 2-1 in the series. I'm not scoring much but I'm trying to help my team in different ways, play better in 'D' zone and faceoffs. I'm trying. It's not easy. I'm trying to score. Maybe [Monday], but I do my best."
Video: Evgeni Malkin talks to the media after practice
Malkin is an easy target because he's not doing what we've all come to expect from him. He set the bar for himself seven years ago, when he had 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 24 playoff games and won the Conn Smythe Trophy to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup.
But to compare the expectations for Malkin now to seven years ago is unfair. Seven years ago he had to produce. The Penguins were basically a two-line team. They weren't going anywhere without Malkin and Sidney Crosby dominating on the scoresheet.
The Penguins now are a four-line team. They have the best third line in the NHL. They have a fourth line that can generate pressure in the offensive zone. They still have Crosby, who is playing at an all-world level, but only has two more points in the Cup Final than Malkin, both assists.
"But he's still a big part of the team," Hall of Fame forward Pavel Bure said of Malkin during a phone conversation from Russia on Sunday. "Even if he doesn't score too many goals, he's still such a dangerous guy on the ice every time he steps on the ice and the Sharks have to pay attention to him. I think he's doing his job. He has helped his team in the Stanley Cup Final. His team is two wins away from the Stanley Cup so obviously he's doing something right."
But Malkin can do more. The Penguins might need him to in order to win the Stanley Cup.
Take, for example, the chances he's getting. Malkin says he's not generating enough because he doesn't feel like he's had the puck on his stick enough against the Sharks. Part of that is the Penguins haven't had a lot of power-play opportunities (they're 0-for-6), but Malkin feels he's not doing enough 5-on-5 and that's the key.
"I want more," Malkin said. "Next game, I try to play more with puck. My game [is to] use my feet and take the puck in neutral zone and skate to the offensive zone and play in zone. I feel better when I have the puck on my stick. I try next game."
Even if Malkin gets the puck more in Game 4 (he had it a fair amount in Game 3), he has to do something with it. He hasn't done enough with the puck on his stick yet in the series. He hasn't used his linemates and is instead trying to beat guys one-on-one. It hasn't worked.
Video: PIT@SJS, Gm3: Malkin pushes shot just wide in OT
Malkin didn't get his first shot on goal in Game 3 until 11:54 of the third period. He got one more shot 4:05 later and that was it. He has eight shots in three games.
"I think he's been trying to make too many pretty plays," said NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp, who was Malkin's teammate in Pittsburgh from 2009-11. "He'll look like he's having a dominant shift and he'll get by one guy, maybe even two guys, but nothing comes of it."
Kevin Weekes, who is on set with Rupp on NHL Network, has been agitated watching Malkin in the Cup Final because he hasn't looked to shoot enough. Weekes brought up a key word when it comes to Malkin: impact.
What has Malkin's impact on the game truly been?
Video: SJS@PIT, Gm2: Jones makes save on Malkin's nifty shot
On one hand, as Bure noted, Malkin is having an impact because he's such a threat to score that the Sharks have to pay attention to him. Maybe that opened opportunities for Crosby and Pittsburgh's third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel in Games 1 and 2.
Crosby had an assist in Games 1 and 2. Bonino scored the winning goal in Game 1. He and Hagelin had assists on Kessel's goal in Game 2.
"He's not just a goal scorer, he can do a lot of different things," Bure said. "Obviously it's better if he would score more goals."
And that's the other part here. Malkin can do all the little things for the Penguins, but he's paid a lot of money ($9.5 million to be exact) to get his name on the scoresheet. If he's not producing, Weekes said, that means there is very little that separates him from a good role player.
"You're a superstar and superstars are supposed to produce," Weekes said. "I love Joel Ward, have known him forever and think he's great, but I think there's a problem when Joel Ward is having a bigger impact on the outcome of games than a superstar like Evgeni Malkin."
The time has come for Malkin to make an impact, to make his pre-series prediction come true.
There are a maximum of four games left in the season. The Penguins need to win two of them. Malkin can help make that happen.
"Geno has that switch, he can flip it," Rupp said. "I think he might even be better when their backs are against the wall and he's needed more. You watch, if they're going to win this series, he's going to blow up and have a three-point game."