Evgeni Malkin may always be young at heart, but understands he isn’t the 22-year-old kid who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when Pittsburgh won the 2009 Stanley Cup, his first of three championships.

While the Penguins superstar is still a force at 37, with 16 goals in 49 games, he acknowledged the evolution of his game after practice on Tuesday.

“Every game, I try my best. I’m not playing like (I was) 15 years ago, it's not the same game. I want to try to change a little bit,” Malkin said. “I know I'm not like, flying like before. I'm trying to play smart, be a little bit smarter with my game. I want to be better on power play, help the team, of course to score every game. Again, like, do my best.”

Malkin speaks with the media

Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan said he’s seen Malkin trying to make those adjustments, and that it’s a conversation they’ve had over the last little while.

The coaching staff feels Malkin is still an elite player in this league and possesses the ability to drive a lot of offense, and want him to continue that. But the Penguins also want Malkin to use his experience to play a more efficient game.

“A lot of that is just understanding what the scheme is and working collectively with the four other guys on the ice, so that there's collective effort, and he's not just taking the puck and doing his thing as a one-man band, so to speak,” Sullivan said.

“He's capable of that at times, but I think he's also capable of playing within the framework of the team concept. I think when he does that, he doesn't chase the game as much. I think the game comes to him, and then he has the ability to act on his talent.”

Sullivan said that his experience of working with players who go through this sort of process is that they’re highly intelligent, and that they understand it comes with the evolution of a career. So, his job as a coach is trying to help them through it and set them up for success.

“Some of the vocabulary that we've used is just things like re-thinking what winning looks like in Pittsburgh, for example, when we talk about Pittsburgh Penguins hockey,” Sullivan said. “This team is capable of winning, our star players still have elite play in them. But how we win with this team might be a little bit different than how we have in the past, and then trying to define that. We use video, we use drills in practice, we have 1-on-1 conversations… there’s a lot of things that go into that.”

Coach Sullivan speaks with the media

None of the adjustments are sweeping, and the Penguins aren’t asking Malkin to reinvent himself. Part of what has made him so special through a career that recently saw him pass Sergei Federov for the second-most goals by a Russian player is his combination of size, game-changing talent, and competitive fire.

Malkin put that on display in the last matchup with Florida back on Jan. 26, where he scored the game-tying goal with 41 seconds left in regulation to help the Penguins get a point in a 3-2 shootout loss.

That was the second-to-last game before the break, and at that point, Pittsburgh was in a pretty good spot when it came to playoff positioning. But after dropping two of three coming out of the break, the Penguins are now nine points behind the Flyers, who are third in the Metro. They are also seven points behind Toronto and Detroit, who hold the top-two Wild Card spots, with the Devils, Islanders, and Capitals also ahead.

The Penguins do have at least one game in hand on all of the teams above them in the standings, and going into Wednesday’s game against the Panthers, Malkin reiterated his faith in the group.

“We still have chances. I mean, the season is not over yet. Like, 30 games left. If we win most games, it's a good chance to make playoffs,” he said. “Now, we focus every game, focus tomorrow. It’s two points tomorrow, huge game against a great team. We believe in this group, we believe we make playoffs, and I believe in myself, I believe in my teammates. I mean, it's a tough season for sure. We're not happy where we're at. But again, we still have a chance.”

When Sullivan was relayed Malkin’s comments about his own play and the team’s play, the bench boss couldn’t help but smile – and agree.

“I think the one thing I really love about Geno is his authenticity. He’s pretty sincere with his comments, and it's not lip service,” he said. “That's been my experience of dealing with Geno, he tells you what he thinks, you know? (Laughs) I've been on both sides of that. So, I love his sincerity, and I love the fact that he believes in this group because I believe in this group. Our coaching staff believes in this group, and our general manager believes in this group.

“So, we understand that we're not where we need to be, and we have a lot of work in front of us. We've got to be up to the task, and that's the challenge. We got to get excited about that challenge. We've got to be eager to be willing to play the game a certain way so that we can overcome that challenge, and I believe this team is capable of doing it, and Geno does also.”