A year ago, Ryan Malone
felt like a Yugo on a racetrack full of Corvettes.
It was the first Stanley Cup Playoff experience for the Pittsburgh Penguins
forward, and while it was the same skates, sticks and pucks out there from the regular season, Malone admits now it was a different game, and he wasn’t prepared for it. And before he was able to adjust, the Pens had been eliminated in five games by the Ottawa Senators
“Those first 10 minutes of Game 1, it felt like they had 10 guys on the ice for everybody on our team,” said Malone. “They were flying around.”
They certainly flew around Malone, who was held to no points, seven shots and a minus-4 rating as the Penguins were bounced in five games.
This season, though, Malone has matured in all facets of his game, and he’s played a major role for the Atlantic Division-champion Penguins in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
He’s fourth on the team with three goals and nine points, and he also has six assists and a plus-3 rating heading into the semifinal series against the Flyers. Most of his damage has come on a line with Evgeni Malkin
and Petr Sykora
, forming possibly the most lethal second line in the League.
“Like a lot of players, Ryan really grew with our team,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien
said. “It’s about maturity and desire. He’s doing a fantastic job. He has a huge role with us. He’s on the top two lines, he plays on the first power-play unit, he’s killing penalties, he’s became almost a complete player. Certainly he’s a big part of the success of this hockey team.”
That maturation was evidenced in a career-best regular season, when he posted personal highs of 27 goals, 24 assists, 51 points, a plus-14 rating and 103 penalty minutes.
And he’s carried that strong play into the postseason.
Malone said he was able to take some of the hard lessons learned last year against Ottawa and apply them to this season’s run, which started with a first-round sweep of the Senators and a five-game waltz past the New York Rangers
“I think just how really simple you really have to play,” Malone said of what he learned the most from last year’s experience. “Ottawa kept the puck moving forward, shot everything on net, just kept their feet moving was the big thing. … They (the Senators) were flying around, but they kept it really simple. I think that’s the key. You don’t want to try to beat too many guys one-on-one. You can leave that up to Geno (Evgeni Malkin
) and Sid (Crosby) and Hoss (Marian Hossa
). For most of us, just try to keep it simple, keep the feet moving.”
Last year, Malone – and most of his teammates – were skating in quicksand.
“The rest of our team, not only Ryan,” Therrien said. “It was like 15 guys with their first playoff experience in the NHL. It’s not easy when you’re facing your first test in the playoffs. … He learned a lot from last year, and when we approached the playoffs this year, having home-ice advantage was a big factor for us this year. There’s no doubt he’s matured through the course of the season with the experience we got from last year.”
Malone is ready for whatever the playoffs throw at him – especially for what he thinks Philadelphia might throw his way.
“Some guys are a little cheaper than other guys,” he said. “There's no names involved, but. … You always want to make sure you're watching your star players. You know they're going to go out there and finish their checks. You want to make sure they're keeping it as clean as possible.
“It's when they start whacking them, other things like that, that kind of brings the other attention. It's my job and other guys on the team that you try to limit those extra whacks if you can. But you got to make sure at the end of the night you're getting the ‘W.’ So you don't want to put yourself or your team in a bad position, so you’ve got to be smart about it, as well. Should be interesting to see what happens.”
Whatever happens, Malone at least will be up to speed.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.