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"Malkin The Dependable"

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin boasts many eye-popping numbers on his resume this season. Just consider the following:


106 – points, 1st in the NHL
73 – assists, 1st in the NHL
1.41 – points per game, 1st in the NHL
13 – power-play goals, 7th most in the NHL
43 – even-strength assists, 1st in the NHL
22:41 – minutes per game, 2nd in the NHL by a forward
67 – even-strength points, 1st in the NHL
37 – power-play points, 3rd in the NHL
53 – points at home, 2nd in the NHL
53 – points on the road, 1st in the NHL

But possibly the most impressive number for the NHL MVP candidate is 236. That will be the number of consecutive games played by the 22-year-old when he takes the ice for Saturday’s 1 p.m. showdown with the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena.

With Saturday’s game, Malkin will move into sole possession of third place on the Penguins’ all-time regular-season list - ahead of Ron Stackhouse but still behind Ron Schock, 313, and Nick Harbaruk, 276. (Malkin has played in 260 straight games including the postseason).

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PENGUINS ALL-TIME REGULAR-SEASON
CONSECUTIVE GAMES PLAYED
1.
Ron Schock, 313
2. Nick Harbaruk, 276
3. Evgeni Malkin, 235
   Ron Stackhouse, 235
5. Jordan Staal, 213
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So what is his secret for such reliability and durability?

“There’s no secret,” said Malkin as he knocked on the Penguins wooden locker room benches at Southpointe. “Maybe it’s good luck? I have lots of injuries but just play. Maybe it’s the food?”

Veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar thinks there’s a little more to it than just meal intake.

“You have to be in good shape; you have to have good genes and you have to be lucky too,” Gonchar said. “Sometimes when you’re getting hit, you can’t do anything about it, or when you’re blocking shots for example. Things are going well for him. I’m glad to hear that he’ll make that (milestone).”

That’s a big accomplishment. He’s not a guy that plays the perimeter, he gets involved. It has to do with his commitment. That’s a testament to the passion he has and getting through some bumps and bruises. - Sidney Crosby
“That’s a big accomplishment,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “He’s not a guy that plays the perimeter, he gets involved. It has to do with his commitment. It’s not easy to do that with the wear and tear, and grind of the season, especially with the kind of player he is. You have to have the mentality of being willing to play through a little bit of pain. There are times where you can be on the fence and some guys choose not to play. Other guys will choose to play. That’s a testament to the passion he has and getting through some bumps and bruises.”

Center Jordan Staal knows exactly what it takes to play in so many consecutive games. In fact, Staal has missed only one game (healthy scratch) in his three-year career and ranks fifth on the team’s all-time list with 213 straight games played (238 including playoffs).

“A lot of it is luck,” he said. “For a lot of players, their injuries are a fluke accident. He fights through a lot of bumps and bruises and he does a great job. There are nagging injuries but once you get into the game and get the adrenaline flowing you don’t notice it. It’s more after (a game) when it hits you the most. It’s something every player has to play through. It’s a part of hockey. Considering that he’s one of the best players in the league it’s nice to know that he’s there to play every night.”

Speaking of a fluke injury, Malkin’s only significant injury occurred in his rookie season during a preseason game. He collided with then teammate John LeClair and suffered a shoulder injury. Malkin missed the first four games of the season and hasn’t been out of the lineup since, even if he always isn’t playing at 100 percent health.

Malkin, who was given Thursday off to rest, has battled all season through various bumps and bruises that are a normal part of the game of hockey. It is a physical sport and Malkin has played through the soreness – and played at a high level. 

“The last game I had a little pain and just wanted to take a rest,” Malkin said. “My body is sore for a couple games but I play. I OK. I feel stronger and I feel better. I try to play hard and help the team.”

“I see him with bruises and stuff but he still gets out on the ice,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “He gets hurt but plays through it. He’s tough. Hopefully he keeps going. He’s a big part of our team. To be able to count on him night-in and night-out is big for us.”

Being a star player, Malkin is a target every time he steps on the ice. Opposing teams will try to hit him at every opportunity. However, Malkin doesn’t back down from the challenge and likes to take the physical play to the opponent.

I see him with bruises and stuff but he still gets out on the ice. He gets hurt but plays through it. He’s tough. Hopefully he keeps going. He’s a big part of our team. To be able to count on him night-in and night-out is big for us. - Marc-Andre Fleury
“The amazing thing is that he’s a skilled guy that battles,” interim head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Not only can he play in physical situations but he’s a physical player himself. When you’re young you can play long periods of time in consecutive games. It’s a credit to him. It’s a credit to how he works on the ice. He’s one of our hardest workers. I think that reflects on him being able to play that many games in a row.

“He’s not a guy that shys away from (contact). He’s not affected by it. He probably plays with more emotion and little more intensity when the games are physical. To have a guy with that skill and that battle level be able to do it night-in and night-out is the reason why he’s at the top of the league in points.”

While initiating contact is a part of Malkin’s game, so is avoiding big hits with his uncanny athleticism. For instance, when Malkin is carrying the puck along the boards and sees a player coming to hit him, Malkin likes to drop low on one knee at the last second and glide through the check so that the glass absorbs the brunt of the hit.

“(Being athletic) helps because if I see who wants to hit me I try and move because it’s big guy or big defenseman or big forward,” Malkin said.

“He’s a great player and he has the ability to work around big hits,” Gonchar said. “Sometimes he takes them but sometimes he has a chance to get around them. He’s good at that. He sees the ice well and that helps to get away from those hits and protect yourself. All of his abilities combined give him a chance to play such a long period of time.”

Of course when Malkin does absorb punishment during the grueling 82-game schedule he’s been able to bounce back quickly. And that is not only a testament to his passion, conditioning, athleticism and commitment, but also to his age.

“Youth has a tendency to be more agile and rebound quicker than the elderly do,” Bylsma said. “He’s a hard working guy and an initiator. When you initiate contact and are ready for physical battles you thrive on it. His challenge is every night to bring it and he has for the last three years and has been really effective.”





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