"What's wrong with Geno? Something has got to be wrong with him."
I've heard and read the grumbles from fans, friends, and family.
I've grumbled it myself.
Watching him is like watching a two-headed monster (not the kind you're thinking of - the Crosby/Malkin on the ice together kind; the good kind). I'm talking about the Malkin that gallops around the ice like a second coming of Jaromir Jagr, protecting the puck from all onslaught; and the Malkin that can't corral a perfect pass, can't hit an open net, can't keep his cool, can't.... *sigh*
What's Wrong With Geno?
Evgeni Malkin has been referred to as "enigmatic," either honestly or tongue-in-cheek, for years. Back in 2009, John Buccigross wrote about a bit about how Russian players were being stereotyped as "dour, aloof, gloomy, boring and soft."
Times have changed enough since then that we don't (or shouldn't, at least) give credence to these generalizations. After all, no one can claim that Malkin is any of those things.
He's not dour or aloof, as one of the funnier guys on the team. Jason Mackey of the PG recently said that Malkin was great at "tweaking" other players with a funny jab. He's become more and more endearing, especially as his command of the English language improved.
He's not gloomy, except when situations such as poor performance and losses warrant - just like any other player.
He's not soft, as he has never been one to shy away from a hit (especially if it's on fellow Russian, Alex Ovechkin).
He is not boring. In no way, shape or form is "Geno" a boring player to watch.
He is, however, maddeningly unpredictable - so much so that his unpredictability has become predictable. We know that just about every game, at some point, Malkin will take a dumb penalty. The only questions are when it'll happen and how badly it'll affect the game's outcome. He'll make a bone-headed decision to try and skate alone through 5 defenders on the same shift that he makes an immaculate pass that leads to a scoring chance.
Geno giveth and Geno taketh away.
He'll look lost for a bit before "getting on his horse" and becoming practically unstoppable with the puck. Players bounce off of him, they can't get around him, he goes right through them with a fury - only to then seemingly fade back into lackadaisical situational awareness and BOOM - turnover.
Yet, he still produces. Currently he sits in the 8th spot in points, but it wasn't always like that.
Simple Stats by a Simpleton:
Statistically, he's having an average year. His points-per-game average has generally hovered around 1 over the last 3 seasons.
- 14-15: 70pts in 69g
- 15-16: 58pts in 57g
- 16-17: 23pts in 24g (so far)
This is a far cry from his best statistical seasons:
- 07-08: 106pts in 82g
- 08-09: 113pts in 82g
- 11-12: 109pts in 75g
So, what's wrong with Geno?
|Malkin, on Marc-Andre Fleury earning his 300th win.|
The Penguins no longer rely on him to be the dominant force he once was, although I'm sure they wouldn't be disappointed to see that guy again. Instead, Malkin has settled into a role - a role that sees other talented Penguins eating away at his stat sheet production. Remove Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Patric Hornqvist... even Sidney Crosby (as has happened before) and there are less competitors for points.
Supply and demand is on display.
When there was less "demand" from teammates is when Malkin shined the brightest, taking over games (and weeks and months at a time) and leaving no doubt who the best player was on the ice. A more talented roster surrounding him and a somewhat checkered injury history have Malkin "playing down" to a point-per-game level.
Think about that - Malkin at just a point-per-game is ho-hum... for him.
There is also the word that has been on everyone's lips of late: Speed. This Pens team is built for it, whether it be Haglin's 2nd gear that has its own extra gear, or one of a number of former Wilkes-Barre Scranton kids who have that incredible burst (I'm looking at you, Conor Sheary & Bryan Rust).
In all seriousness though, The Flash wears Haglin pj's - He's THAT fast.
Malkin is not a speed guy. At 6'3", he has the build of Mario Lemieux; who effortlessly glided around the ice (and at times took heat for his seeming lack of hustle). Unlike Lemieux, Malkin plays more like a bull in a china shop among smaller and faster players. Sometimes, I believe the sheer speed of not only his opponents but of his teammates, leaves him looking slower than he really is.
Take Malkin and place him on a "power" team, perhaps one from the Western Conference, and I'd bet my non-existent fortune that he'd play the top line center role as dominant as ever. He'd rack up points as he once did, because he'd have to. So long as the Pens (and Crosby) are healthy, he doesn't have to be THE guy. Like how Kessel has adapted to filling a different role, so has Malkin.
Once we begin to take Geno as he is instead of how we want him or remember him to be, we'll come to see that Malkin's problem is the kind of problem teams love to have - an overabundance of scorers who all want nothing more than to make the team go.
Now, if he can just stop taking dumb penalties... eh, I guess we have to accept Geno for what he is:
How very "Russian" of him.
Lee can be found at @LCJS on Twitter.
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