Maybe it's because all we can do with the Pittsburgh Penguins
these days is split hairs, but Evgeni Malkin
officially is under the microscope after another average performance Thursday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Malkin hasn't scored a goal since registering two on four shots in Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers. He has seven shots on goal since, has been credited with eight giveaways – including four in Game 4 – and has won only 35 percent of his faceoffs.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien, though, is hardly concerned. He said on a conference call Friday that the MVP candidate simply has to be better in Game 5 on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.
"Yeah, he hasn't been productive like he was in the past, but he's going to have to find a way next game to make sure he's productive like he used to be," Therrien said. "I think they did a good job about checking him. It's not sometimes a matter of the players not being productive. Sometimes you've got to give credit to the other team. They're doing a good job right now to contain him. It's going to be up to Evgeni Malkin to make sure he's going to be productive offensively."
Therrien discounted the notion that perhaps Malkin is tired because he never has played this much hockey in a season. Malkin has played in all 95 games this season after playing in 83 of 87 games a year ago.
The most games Malkin played in any one season prior to coming to the NHL was 69 with his Russian club team and international tournaments in 2004-05. That included six games in the World Junior Championships and nine games in the World Championships.
Malkin looked tired at the end of last season – he had four assists and was a minus-1 in five playoff games against Ottawa – but that had something to do with his tumultuous summer of fleeing Russia to come to the NHL.
"I think he's got more experience this year to play through the schedule that we're facing in the NHL, plus the playoffs," Therrien said. "I could understand fatigue would be a factor if we would have played seven games in every round. I think we had some quality time for rest … so I don't think fatigue is a factor."
As Malkin goes, apparently, so do his linemates.
Outside of Ryan Malone's insurance goal 9:58 into the third period of Game 3, he and Petr Sykora have been quiet. Sykora, in fact, has one goal in the last five games after scoring four in the first five of the postseason.
"At times, this is going to be like this," Therrien said. "You can't expect your top two lines to give you one or two goals a game because you're not going to score four, five, six goals a game in the playoffs all the time.
"They did a good job to contain (Malkin's) line in the last few games, and it's going to be a challenge for them to make sure they're going to be able to get some results because this is what they're supposed to do, bring some offense to the team.
"In the meantime, I'm not losing any faith in that line. They've been really good so far in the big picture."
Therrien mentioned the big picture more than once during Friday's call. He believes it's essential to focus on that at this point rather than the Penguins' loss in Game 4 that only forced a Game 5.
The Penguins are 11-2 in the playoffs. They hold a 3-1 lead in this series.
They've been pretty darn good.
"You've got to look at the big pictures every single round, and after four games, we're optimistic," Therrien said. "It's demanding to win games in the playoffs on the road. We all know that. We were capable to have a split in Philly. It was a good accomplishment for our team to win Game 3 there."
Therrien then suggested, the way Maxime Talbot did Thursday night, that the Penguins are bringing momentum into Game 5 because of how they played the last 40 minutes of Game 4.
The Penguins held the Flyers to 17 shots on goal in the final 40 minutes after surrendering 17 in the first 20. They had 25 shots themselves in the final two periods and gave the Flyers only one power play as opposed to three in the first period.
Jordan Staal scored twice in the third period to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 5:49 to play. The Flyers eventually salted the game away thanks to Joffrey Lupul's empty-netter with 33 seconds left.
"I liked the way we responded," Therrien said. "I think we had the momentum on our side. We could have made a comeback. We were really close. So we're going to make sure we're going to bring that momentum to the game at home Sunday."
On the flip side, the Flyers also believe a win in Game 4 gave them momentum for the first time in the series. And with defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn possibly returning to the lineup Sunday, the Flyers not only may get an infusion of talent, but of energy, too, by having their top two defensemen back on the blue line.
"Kimmo is one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the League," Flyers goalie Martin Biron said. "He's even better when you don't notice him because he does the little things right all the time. He makes guys think twice. It's no secret he's an All-Star.
"We want him in the locker room healthy and ready to go if he can."
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, just wants Malkin to be Malkin, and all will be right again.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.