After being away from game action for months during the offseason, Evgeni Malkin had to miss all of training camp with an undisclosed injury.
But after just two practices, Malkin made his season debut on Oct. 9 vs. Anaheim despite not having the opportunity to get back into game shape or see what new head coach Mike Johnston’s system looked like firsthand alongside new teammates.
However, Malkin still put up an assist in the Pens’ 6-4 win. And he hasn’t stopped producing since.
The Penguins center has quietly, if you can use that word to describe a player as talented as Malkin, been the most consistent player not just in Pittsburgh, but in the entire NHL. He’s recorded at least a point in all nine games the Pens have played so far this year (4G-8A-12P).
His streak is tied for the longest active point streak in the NHL with Columbus’ Ryan Johansen. It’s Malkin’s longest streak to open a season since his rookie year back in 2006-07, where he had goals in the first six games.
“I just do my job,” Malkin said, a sentiment he kept repeating. “We have a great line with (Pascal Dupuis) and (Blake) Comeau. We try to use each other. A good power play, too. Most (of my) points are on the power play, but still a couple chances 5-on-5. Hit the post today. … I love to help the team to win.”
It may not have looked like it, but Malkin said he struggled the first few games due to his lack of conditioning.
“Now it’s better, but of course the first three or four games it’s really tough,” he said. “(I wasn’t) in good shape, but (I) still worked. Go to the gym after tonight’s game, tomorrow too. Just do my job. Every day.”
To help him get back into the speed of the game, Johnston started Malkin in an unfamiliar spot – right wing. The natural center played the first five games there next to Dupuis and Brandon Sutter to ease his workload and responsibilities at the onset of the season.
“I think it was good for him to start on the wing and then move back to center,” Johnston said. “I think Geno’s overall game, you can just see it getting better and better. He’s picking up the puck with more speed, he’s carrying it, he’s making better plays. So I think his play over the course of the next couple weeks will be where he wanted it to be if he had a preseason.”
His conditioning, however, is right where he wants it to be.
“Yeah, it feels so much better,” Malkin said. “Nothing’s sore, in great shape now too. Lots of games, it’s helped my shape and I just enjoy playing with this team.”
Malkin moved back to the middle on Oct. 23 against Detroit, centering Dupuis and Comeau. The center is a key component to the Penguins’ new system.
Malkin was asked for the first time on Thursday what he thought of Johnston’s way of doing things. His response indicated that he’s not arguing with the results.
“We win, (so) I think it’s good,” he said. “It’s a little bit tough because it’s a new coach, lots of new players. Now we understand how to play all three lines and all three zones. (Thursday) I think we played good. We played good on the PK, power play, 5-on-5, D-zone, offensive zone, and we understand what coach wants and try to do it every day. Learn a little bit every day.”
As Malkin referenced earlier, he’s gotten the majority of his points on the man-advantage. All four of his goals have been scored on the power play, which leads the NHL, while he’s tied for the NHL lead with eight power-play points.
Malkin gave a simple reply when asked why they’ve been doing so well.
“Because we have good players,” he responded. “(Sidney) Crosby, (Kris) Letang. We try to move the puck quick, stay to front and (Chris Kunitz) screens the goalie every time. There’s a good chance to score because the goalie doesn’t see the puck. We work at practice a lot. Every day, actually. We’ve played together a long time. Me, Crosby, Letang, ‘Kuni.’ Just one new guy, (Patric Hornqvist). But the five guys are still good and we don’t score every night, but we try to do our best.”
Malkin assisted on Kunitz’s power-play goal on Thursday night against Los
Angeles, giving him his 400th career assist – which moved him into fifth place on the Penguins’ all-time list behind the elite company of Ron Francis, Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, and of course Mario Lemieux.
“It’s just another number, I think, because I’m still young,” the 28-year-old
Malkin said before jokingly adding, “Not young, but it’s alright. But I know I have more points (in me) and I try to do my job. Good number, but (I’m) not done.”