Bolstered by a few recent games with no goals but plenty of pizzazz, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin can feel a breakout coming.
“I want to score, but, if the team wins, it’s fine,” Malkin said Tuesday after practice at Southpointe. “I think it’s close. The last couple of games I had great chances, [hit] a couple of posts. I need one goal, and it can keep going.
“I’m still positive, focused on my game. I know it’s coming.”
Going into a road game tonight against the New York Rangers, Malkin has gone eight games without a goal. He has three goals, 13 points in 15 games.
He is on a point-a-game pace since the start of last season — 46 in 46 — but that’s a dropoff from 2011-12, when he won his second NHL scoring title with 109 points, including 50 goals, and was voted recipient of the Hart Trophy as league MVP. It is also a dropoff from his time during the lockout that wiped out the first three-plus months of the 2012-13 NHL season, when Malkin tore through the Kontinental Hockey League, racking up 23 goals, 65 points in 37 games for his Russian hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk club.
The past three games, though, might have marked a turning point. He didn’t have a point in a 3-2 win Wednesday against Boston, but he played at such a high level that coach Dan Bylsma called him “dominant” and said it was Malkin’s “best game of the year.”
Malkin then had three assists in a weekend sweep of two games against Columbus. He ranks third on the team in points behind fellow center Sidney Crosby, who led the NHL with 23 points before games Tuesday, and winger Chris Kunitz, who has 15 points.
“Sometimes, you don’t score, but you have 10 scoring chances, you play good,” Malkin said. “But I feel pretty good, and I agree with Coach. The past couple of games I feel good, and we have played very well.”
Malkin, 27, is taking a sunny-side-of-the-street approach.
“Every game, every practice, every day is a good experience,” he said. “Of course, you want to score, you want points every game, but I feel right now that I want to help the team to play solid. If I’m not scoring, I do a different job.”
Bylsma said that includes Malkin’s backchecking and overall defensive work. A case in point, he said, was Malkin’s game Saturday in a 3-0 win at Columbus.
“At the end of the night, he’s kept the other [team’s] top line off the score sheet, off the scoring-chance sheet, largely due to the way he’s playing with his line, not only offensively, but defensively,” Bylmsa said.
“The only … disappointment for Evgeni is he’s looking for the goal or the assist or the play to have benefit, and so many other things that he can do, does do, are big factors in the game for us. Maybe a goal would take the [burden] of [not] scoring away from him, but having played three solid games in a row, been great defensively, really great in the Boston game, if he’s going to keep playing that way, that’s a good thing for our team.”
It probably hasn’t helped that, while Jussi Jokinen has fit in well as Malkin’s left winger, his right-hand man has been missing. James Neal, who has strong chemistry with Malkin, hasn’t played since the first period of the season opener because of an undisclosed injury. There has been a revolving door of right wingers on that second line, including Beau Bennett (now hurt), Chuck Kobasew (now hurt) and, most recently, rookie Jayson Megna.
Whether it is because he is not producing at a level he wants or because he is hoping to elevate his line, Malkin probably is guilty at times of pressing. That has been counterproductive in terms of scoring and has contributed to him taking six minor penalties, although none in the past four games.
Consider a stretch of seven games from Oct. 12-26. Malkin had two goals, seven points and 29 shots. But he also had a plus-minus rating of minus-6 and five penalties.
“Sometimes, if you’re not scoring, you try to do too much,” Malkin said. “You try to push, push. Sometimes, I talk to Coach. He says to just relax, just focus your game and don’t focus too hard. You play good and just do a good job.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.