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Pittsburgh Gamebreaker: Evgeni Malkin

by Shawn P. Roarke
Sidney Crosby is a singular talent, but he might not be the most important Penguin to take the ice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Consider this. Evgeni Malkin has missed 15 games this season and the Penguins have gone 5-9-1 in those contests. Only three of those games were won in regulation, suggesting that Pittsburgh has trouble blowing teams out without the presence of Malkin as the No. 2 center.

That becomes even more obvious when you check out Crosby's numbers during Malkin's absence.
Crosby finished the regular season with 109 points, good for a share of second in the League. But he could have easily won the Art Ross Trophy if Malkin had stayed healthy. Crosby managed just 3 goals and 2 assists when Malkin, the 2009 Art Ross Trophy winner, was absent from the lineup.

Those are some pretty compelling arguments there. 

But the case becomes open-and-shut when you look at last year's postseason. Malkin had 14 goals and 22 assists in 24 games, including 8 points in the seven-game upset of the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.

And, as dynamic as Malkin was in the 2009 postseason, he was equally consistent. Malkin never went more than two games without scoring in Pittsburgh's 24-game march through the postseason and he was held off the board in just six of the 24 contests.

And, now, it appears that Malkin is once again hitting his stride after returning from his most recent injury. In the final three games of the Penguins' 2009-10 regular season, Malkin put up 5 points -- including 3 goals. 

"I do see an elevation in his game," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Those things are an indication, a barometer for him playing a good game and him being on his game. It's working to get that puck back. A lot of times when he gets it back, he puts himself in situations to attack."

And, that is just what the Penguins want to hear as the playoffs approach and they prepare to defend their hard-earned title.

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