When athletes undergo a devastating knee surgery, it usually takes a good 12 months before they feel back to normal – let alone play at their highest level.
But Evgeni Malkin
isn’t your typical athlete.
After going under the knife back in February to repair ligament damage in his right knee and pushing himself incredibly hard this past summer to regain his strength, Malkin is beginning to look like the player he can be – one that just dominates games.
“He’s just being a leader, a guy that goes out and wants the puck every night, plays the right way, and scores some big goals for us,” forward Chris Kunitz
said. “We all need to follow along and pick up our game like he has.”
The 2010-11 campaign was a frustrating one for Malkin, capped by his season-ending injury – then after a strong preseason, the center’s recently repaired knee balked under the continued strain of playing NHL games. But after taking time away to give it rest, Malkin is feeling like he’s getting into a rhythm and back to where he wants to be.
“It was a couple tough games at the beginning of the season, my knee was sore a little bit again,” he said. “Now nothing’s sore. I feel like I’m in great shape and I’m starting to find my game. It’s not 100 percent, but every game I feel better. With puck control, skating better. The points are coming.”
As defenseman Brooks Orpik
put it, “I haven’t heard anyone really talk about the major surgery he’s come off of, you know? 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’s play in the Penguins’ last game, a 4-1 setback to Detroit, was just the latest in a string of dominant performances by the dynamic and gifted offensive force.
I feel like I’m in great shape and I’m starting to find my game. It’s not 100 percent, but every game I feel better. With puck control, skating better. The points are coming. - Evgeni Malkin
“It’s my gear,” Malkin responded when asked about his game. “Every game’s the same. Good speed and play more in the offensive zone.”
And he’s being rewarded on the scoresheet, as Malkin has six goals and 15 points in his last 11 outings. Overall, Malkin’s 29 points tie him for the team scoring lead with linemate James Neal
But not only is he putting up the numbers, but the way the former playoff MVP and scoring champion has been taking over games – for example, warding off defenders with one arm while driving to the net, creating space for himself in the slot with nifty moves, making passes in the blink of an eye that even his teammates are barely ready for – is exactly what the Penguins need with the injury bug biting their lineup again.
“When we’ve got guys out, obviously Geno needs to step up and he’s done that,” Neal said, who’s been a part of many of those skilled plays with his linemate. “It’s fun to play with Geno. We’ve got out to a great start this season, so we need to keep going through Christmas and be consistent and keep doing those things that help the team win.”
While individual successes are nice, Malkin's only goal is helping the Penguins win. And he plans on continuing to do everything he can to make sure that happens.
“In tight games he wants the puck,” Kunitz said. “He’s a competitor. It’s a lot of fun to see him play successfully.”