On Thursday, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said the team needed more from the team’s two superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as Crosby has been held goalless in his last nine playoff games dating back to last year, while Malkin hasn’t scored in his past eight.
They haven’t found a way to find the back of the net in this up-and-down first-round series against Columbus, which has to change as Crosby and Malkin aren’t just the Pens’ best players; they’re two of the best players in the world. And there are responsibilities that come along with that.
Crosby and Malkin are aware of those responsibilities and the expectations surrounding them, and know that they must find a way to rise up and meet them. They’re doing everything they can to make that happen, and will continue to work until they break through.
“When we’re not scoring of course people talk about goals,” Malkin said after practice on Friday. “But I always try to score every game. It’s just bad luck, maybe, I don’t know. But every game I try 100 percent and try hard to score. I know people start talking about my goals and I think about them too. But I’m trying to score every game. It’s my game.”
“(We have to) be better,” Crosby said. “Find ways to contribute and ultimately score. You have to work hard, but you also have to produce and find ways to help the team. It’s a big part of our job, contributing offensively, so making sure that we do that.”
The scoresheet doesn’t show it, but both players have had their moments in their opening-round series against Columbus that’s currently even at 2-2. The ones that come to mind in regards to Crosby are the numerous times he has flown down the wing on an odd-man rush and aimed for the top far corner, only to miss by centimeters.
Crosby, the NHL’s regular-season scoring champion, certainly isn’t prone to slumps, as consistency has always been one of his biggest strengths. Finding a way to get on the scoresheet no matter what and make an impact that way, especially at key moments in games, is what fans have come to expect from No. 87.
But when Crosby isn’t scoring, he said the biggest thing is making sure the chances are there. And right now, he doesn’t feel like he’s had enough. Crosby said he needs to start generating more and that they will eventually start going in.
“I think you just trust the puck will go in. I think the main thing is that you’re getting chances,” he said. “When you’re getting a lot of chances and sometimes they’re not going in, I think you trust ultimately they eventually will and they’ll come in bunches. But personally, I feel like I’d like to get a few more chances to get comfortable.”
Crosby is arguably the tightest-checked player in the league during the regular season, and that gets even worse during the postseason. But he’s not blaming his lack of goals and amount of chances on matchups against Brandon Dubinsky or any of the other Blue Jackets. Crosby knows it’s on him to find a way.
“Ultimately you want to be there when your team needs you the most and at playoff time, you want to be at your best,” he said. “So to a certain point you want to create more and find ways. But I wouldn’t say it’s any more frustrating (that it’s playoffs) and I don’t blame any of that based on a matchup or anything like that. It’s about me finding a way to be better and to score.”
Malkin was terrific in the third period of Game 3 and in the first period of Game 4, which were probably Pittsburgh’s two best periods of hockey in this series as they scored three goals in each frame and dominated Columbus in terms of puck possession and carrying the play. Malkin was the driving force behind that by using his speed and world-class skill and vision to make plays.
“My line didn’t play bad (in Game 4),” Malkin said. “The first period we moved the puck, the second period we had lots of penalties and we lost (the momentum of) the game a little bit. But sometimes just we need to play simple.”
However, Malkin didn’t record a shot on goal in Game 4 – an aberration for a player like him, who led the entire NHL in shots two years ago when he won the scoring title.
“A couple shots were blocked. It’s hard because Columbus is a tough team,” Malkin said. “Every team (is tough), it’s playoffs. It’s a good team. We talk about us but Columbus played their best game. Tough battles, you play 1-on-1, sometimes you shoot but the defenseman blocks. I’m trying, but I know the puck is coming and I’ll score goals.”
It may not be going in for Malkin right now, but Bylsma has liked what he’s seen from No. 71 both on and off the ice.
“He’s a big, emotional leader for our team,” Bylsma said. “See him on the bench in Game 3, it wasn’t just what he did on the ice. He had a big role in that game and a big role in leadership on the bench. I expect that from him in tight situations. Game 5 is a pivotal game. I do expect to see that out of him."