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Malkin Reclaiming Elite Form

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Former Penguins head coach Michel Therrien once pulled aside his gifted center Evgeni Malkin and pointed to a chart of the NHL’s leading scorers.

“Your name needs to be up there,” he told the young Russian player.

Malkin responded to his coach’s wishes. In 2008, he finished second in the NHL in scoring with 47 goals and 106 points. The following year, Malkin claimed the league’s scoring title with 113 points (35G-78A) en route to winning playoff MVP and hoisting the 2009 Stanley Cup.

After reaching such a high level of play, Malkin battled through a pair of injury-plagued seasons the past two campaigns – including ligament damage in his right knee last year that forced him out of the lineup for the second-half of the season.

The Magnitogorsk native spent his entire spring and summer strengthening and rehabbing his knee in Moscow with Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar.

And after some early-season issues with the surgical scar in his knee, which forced him out of the lineup for seven games, Malkin has finally found his old form.

Malkin has 43 points (15G-28A) in his first 31 games of the 2011-12 season and was tied for fifth place in the NHL scoring race as of Jan. 3 – only three points behind league leader Claude Giroux.

“It was a tough summer. I worked hard with Mike Kadar. I feel pretty good,” Malkin said. “It was a couple tough games at the beginning of the season, my knee was sore a little bit. But after a couple days rest, nothing was sore. I feel like I’m in great shape and I’m starting to find my game. The points are coming.”

“I haven’t heard anyone really talk about the major surgery he’s come off of,” defenseman Brooks Orpik noted. “That’s something that, talking to most people that have had that surgery, they say you really don’t feel good for a whole year. He’s obviously worked really hard to get himself to where he is.”

Malkin was named the NHL’s “First Star” for the month of December after posting 20 points on six goals and 14 assists in 13 games.

During the month, Malkin enjoyed a nine-game scoring streak from Dec. 8-29, tying for the longest scoring streak in the NHL this season (Teemu Selanne; Patrick Sharp). Over those nine games Malkin recorded 19 points and notched his seventh career hat trick with three goals against Buffalo in an 8-3 win on Dec. 17.

“Thanks to my teammates, they help me play great,” Malkin said of his award. “I have confidence now. I believe in myself. I worked in practice and try to play the same.”

Current Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma believes that all the success that Malkin is experiencing recently is a result of the work he put in over those days in the training room.

Evgeni Malkin's seventh career hat trick on Dec. 17
“I think you see the motivation from the end of last year and summer to rehab, and coming into camp and carrying that right into the season,” Bylsma said. “After getting back on the ice after the games he sat out there, after about the sixth game back he really started to feel comfortable with his knee.

“He really had an outstanding month. I think he’s been dominant in his game and is dominating in a lot of areas in the game. That was a pretty impressive month and I think it started with that motivation in the summer and bringing that into camp.”

With the Penguins still dealing with a ridiculous rash of injuries – including missing captain Sidney Crosby for all but eight games this year – Malkin has been the player to carry the load for the team.

“We all know in the locker room that he’s a tough player,” linemate Chris Kunitz said. “He probably plays through it more than most guys should. He’s healthy, he’s having fun out there, and in tight games he wants the puck. He’s a competitor. It’s a lot of fun to see him play successfully.

“He’s a leader, a guy that goes out and wants the puck every night, plays the right way, and scores some big goals for us. We all need to follow along and pick up our game like he has.”

And just as Therrien requested of Malkin years before, Bylsma has the same expectations for his superstar.

“You see his play with the puck at both ends of the rink and how dominant he can be and take over games and periods of hockey,” Bylsma said. “He put his name back up there as one of the best players in the league and a top guy in the scoring race.”
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