It was a season of ups and downs for Evgeni Malkin
He was already coming off a difficult year in 2013-14 where he’d missed 22 games and had to deal with a tough schedule because of the Olympics. And things didn’t get any easier to start this year, as the Penguins center was forced to miss all of training camp with an undisclosed injury.
As a result, Malkin didn’t have the opportunity to get back into game shape or get familiarized with new head coach Mike Johnston’s systems and style alongside a bunch of new personnel.
But Malkin didn’t let any of that slow him down, and he started out fast. He began the year with an 11-game point streak, totaling five goals and nine assists over that stretch, and continued on that torrid pace throughout the first half.
And it wasn’t just his numbers that were impressive. Malkin looked completely dominant on the ice despite dealing with a whole lot of inconsistency, especially compared to last year – where he never left his natural center position and played the entire season alongside James Neal and Jussi Jokinen.
It was much different this season, as Malkin moved between all three forward positions – starting at left wing with Brandon Sutter – and rotated through several different combinations of linemates. But despite all of that, Malkin was consistently excellent.
But while Malkin had a tremendous first half, his second half wasn’t as strong and injuries were the biggest reason why.
Just when Malkin had gotten going again after missing five straight games in late January/early February with a groin issue, he suffered an ankle injury. And as the Penguins struggled to make the playoffs, he returned faster than he normally would have from a lower-body injury to help his team secure a berth – and it seemed to have affected his play.
“’Geno’ is the type of guy that’s not going to use excuses. But he sprained his ankle and he came back sooner than most players would. He continued to play on an ankle that was not 100 percent,” general manager Jim Rutherford said after the Pens’ season ended.
THE NUMBERS: Malkin totaled 28 goals and 70 points in 69 games played, finishing with a 1.01 points-per-game average during the regular season – which ranked seventh-highest among all NHL players. However, Malkin was unable to continue that pace in the playoffs as he was held pointless in the Pens’ opening-round loss to the New York Rangers for the first time in his postseason career.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Malkin’s production was incredible during his first half of the season, especially through early December as he had 14 goals and 32 points in his first 26 games – eclipsing the pace he was on during his most recent Art Ross Trophy season in 2011-12. He went on to total 19 goals and 47 points in the first 41 games, but slowed down in the second half and playoffs due to injury. Malkin missed 13 total games – eight of those coming in the last month of the season – and returned before he was fully healthy because his team needed him as they fought to earn a playoff spot. However, Malkin just wasn’t able to play at the same level and it reflected in his numbers. That being said, while Malkin did finish with the lowest point total of his career, 70 is still a whole heck of a lot. He’s similar to Crosby in that he’s been so incredible throughout his career that a down year for him is tremendous for anybody else.
LOOKING AHEAD: Malkin obviously didn’t have the playoffs he wanted, as he was held off the scoresheet for the first time in his career as the Pens lost in five games to the Rangers. Prior to this season, his lowest postseason total was four assists in five games back in his rookie season (2006-07).
Malkin can be incredibly hard on himself when his production drops like that, so I asked him how he would work to bounce back and be ready to go for next season. He replied, “Just work hard in the summer. Maybe (strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar) can come to Russia this summer and work with me. We work together, it’s good stuff, I like working with him. It’s just more rest and work this summer.”
Malkin was able to get back on track at the World Championship, where he represented his native Russia at the tournament for the sixth time in his career. Malkin captured the second silver medal of his career and finished with five goals, five assists and 10 points in nine games played. Like Crosby, hopefully Malkin’s terrific performance there can give him a boost as he prepares for next season.