Ron Cook: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin scoring lulls are too long



How could it be?

Sidney Crosby went into the Penguins' game Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers without a goal in seven games. Evgeni Malkin hadn't scored one in 10.

How could it be that the two stars failed to shine for so long?

The Penguins are paying big, big money to Crosby and Malkin to deliver so much more. Crosby did get a goal against the Flyers -- his first point in three games -- but it wasn't enough in a 2-1 loss to a team that should have been overmatched after coming in with a 6-10-1 record and playing Tuesday night in Ottawa. It was the ninth time in 10 games the supremely talented Penguins failed to score more than three goals. They went 4-6 in those 10, losing the past three. They had just one power-play goal and no five-on-five goals in each of those three losses.

Crosby and Malkin are too talented to have this kind of slump. We saw their amazing skill Wednesday night midway through the second period. Malkin, with the puck along the right boards and the Penguins on the power play, spotted Crosby in front alone behind Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann. In an instant, the puck was on Crosby's stick and, in another blink, it was behind goaltender Ray Emery. It was a marvelous goal.

The problem is there haven't been enough of 'em.

"Absolutely," Crosby said when asked if he and Malkin have to deliver more for the Penguins to be successful. "There are high expectations for us, for sure. It's our responsibility to find ways to score."

It didn't help that Crosby linemate Chris Kunitz had a goal waved off just 19 seconds into the game after review showed he kicked the puck into the net. It was an especially punishing call for Kunitz, who was held without a point for a second consecutive game for the first time since the 2011-12 season. That was almost unbelievable consistency on his part.

It also didn't help that Crosby's other linemate -- Pascal Dupuis -- went a 12th consecutive game without a goal. He's a first-line player and is being paid accordingly. He needs to produce more.

But the scoring drought is much more about Crosby and Malkin.

At least Crosby had chances. Emery stopped him after Crosby blew down left wing and by defenseman Braydon Coburn with a wonderful move in the opening seconds. Emery was better again late in the second period when Crosby had a breakaway down left wing. Emery was better still in the final seconds of the second period when he stopped Crosby backhanders in tight not just once, but twice.

Crosby finished with six shots on goal.

Those shots will start to go in for him, right?

Sooner rather than later, right?

"Eventually, it'll turn around if you keep getting those chances," Crosby said, nodding his head.

It's a little harder to say with confidence that the goals will come for Malkin. He had just two shots on goal against the Flyers. For the season, he has taken 20 fewer shots than Crosby (68).

That isn't to say Malkin played a lousy game. He set up defenseman Kris Letang with a great scoring chance in the first period, but Letang couldn't beat Emery. He had that beautiful helper on Crosby's goal to extend his streak with at least one assist to five games. He also set up linemate James Neal on a give-and-go on a power-play midway through the third period only to watch Emery stop Neal's shot.

But the Penguins need more than just assists from Malkin. His three goals in 18 games are a ridiculous number. So were his 9 goals in 31 games last season. Malkin is capable of so much more. He was a 50-goal scorer in 2011-12 when he was the NHL's Most Valuable Player. He needs to be that player again.

The best way for Malkin to get there is to shoot the puck more.

You can't score goals if you don't shoot the puck.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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