Another road win for the Penguins.
Another game with limited offensive production from Evgeni Malkin.
It makes you wonder, doesn't it?
How good will the Penguins be when Malkin finally gets it going?
This morning, the Penguins rest atop the NHL's Eastern Conference standings with 22 points. They beat Buffalo, 4-3, Sunday afternoon to improve their road record to 8-2. They will take an 11-5 overall record into their home game Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Penguins are winning despite getting little from Malkin, who hardly resembles the player who scored 50 goals last season, won the NHL scoring title for the second time and was the league most valuable player. He didn't get a point against Buffalo, his fifth consecutive game without a goal. He has scored just three goals through the first one-third of the lockout-shortened season.
A little perspective:
Malkin has one more goal than grinder Craig Adams and young defenseman Simon Despres.
It is Malkin's worst 16-game start in his career in terms of goals. Next worse for him was the 2010-11 season when he had four goals and 12 points after his first 16 games.
Most of Malkin's production has come on the power play, where he has been a force, especially as a set-up man for James Neal. Two of Malkin's three goals and eight of his 14 assists came with the man-advantage. His 17 points ranked ninth in the NHL going into the games Sunday so it is not as if he has been invisible on the ice.
But Malkin hasn't done much five-on-five, although he did draw two Buffalo penalties, the first leading to a power-play goal by Sidney Crosby. Malkin's only even-strength goal was the Penguins' first goal in a 3-0 win Jan. 31 against the New York Rangers. Part of the problem is Malkin has not had a steady left winger on his line with Neal. Matt Cooke skated there much of the time Sunday for the third game in a row. Before him, Eric Tangradi, Dustin Jeffrey, Tanner Glass, Tyler Kennedy and Zach Boychuk took turns. Cooke had an assist on a Neal goal in a 4-2 home win Wednesday night against Ottawa. That's the only point scored by the left wing on the Malkin-Neal line.
But Malkin has to find a way to do more. He has skated quite a bit with Crosby and did so again Sunday but couldn't get on the score sheet. He is getting chances; Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller made a strong glove save on his wrist shot late in the first period. Malkin's 47 shots going into Sunday were tied for 23rd in the NHL statistics, but his abysmal conversion rate -- 6.4 percent -- was tied for 334th.
You have to figure the puck is going to start going in for Malkin. He's a brilliant player. It was easy to think his terrific power-play goal Feb. 7 against Washington was going to be the start of something big. That was the first of five second-period goals by the Penguins in a 5-2 win.
But Malkin hasn't scored a goal since that game.
The other Penguins continue to carry Malkin's share of the goal-scoring load. Sunday, it was Pascal Dupuis, who had two goals and an assist, and Crosby, who had a goal and two assists. Friday night in a 3-1 win at Winnipeg, it was Adams, who had two goals. Wednesday night in that win against Ottawa, it was Neal with two goals.
Maybe the game Wednesday night against the Flyers will be the one in which Malkin turns it on. Go back to 2010-11 when he was off to that rough start. In his 17th game that season, he scored three goals and had a four-point game in a win against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Can we agree?
The game against the Flyers really is the perfect time for Malkin to get it going.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.