Depending on how you track it, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has gone four playoff games with a goal or eight dating to last year’s postseason. Either way, it triggers a lot of attention and not the good kind.
“I know people are starting to talk about my goals,” Malkin said in a rare playoff-time interview after practice Friday at Southpointe.
“I think [about it], too, but I try to score every game.”
Malkin has 36 goals, 101 points in 87 career playoff games and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP for the Stanley Cup champion Penguins in 2009.
Although he has four assists in four games in the first-round series against Columbus, Malkin has no goals against the Blue Jackets and had no points in Boston’s four-game sweep of the Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference final.
Malkin has been thrown into the same conversation with fellow Penguins star center Sidney Crosby, whose goal drought dating to last spring is nine games. Coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday the Penguins “need more from” those two, who are the team’s “best players.”
Malkin couldn’t argue.
“We’re not scoring,” he said. “If we don’t score, people talk about goals. I come to the game and I always try to score. It’s just bad luck maybe. I don’t know. But every game I try 100 percent and try to score.”
Malkin had 12 shots over the first three games against Columbus, another six attempted shots were blocked by the Blue Jackets and two missed the net. In Game 4 Wednesday, the only two shots he launched missed the net in a 4-3 overtime loss that left the teams even at two wins going into Game 5 tonight at Consol Energy Center.
Malkin suggested that, even though the Penguins are a No. 2 seed playing against the seventh-seed, the Blue Jackets have proven to be a challenging opponent.
“It’s hard because Columbus is a tough team,” Malkin said. “Every team in the playoffs is a good team.
“We talk about us, but Columbus shows its best game. It’s a tough battle when you’re playing one-on-one. Sometimes, you shoot, but the defenseman blocks it. I’m trying. I know it’s coming. I’ll score goals.”
Blue Jackets winger Nick Foligno said keeping Malkin and Crosby — who also has four assists in the series — limited to no goals and a dull roar offensively takes a lot of elbow grease.
“Maybe some good luck, some good positioning and good play by our defense and our forwards,” Foligno said. “We’re trying to limit their time and space. It seems to be working so far. I don’t want to jinx it because they’re so dynamic and they’re guys who can get hot at any moment.
“If we continue doing what we’re doing and playing the way we have, it makes it difficult on them because we’re an in-your-face type of team.”
Bylsma said Malkin, an alternate captain, has helped in other ways.
“He’s a big emotional leader for our team,” Bylsma said. “I see him on the bench in Game 3, not just what he did on the ice, but a big role in that game, big leadership on the bench. I expect that from him in these tight situations.
“Game 5 is a pivotal game. I do expect to see that out of him.”
In Game 4, though, the Penguins lacked a killer instinct after taking a 3-0 first-period lead, and Bylsma called out the whole team for a lack of effort in areas such as puck battles.
Malkin couldn’t argue.
“Dan’s right,” he said. “Last game we didn’t win the battles. We come to the corner and we lost the battles.
“We just played 20 minutes, and, after that, we didn’t play. I don’t know why. Maybe [we thought] it was an easy game, 3-0, and we would just win the game. But it’s the playoffs. We need to still play 60 minutes and [have] everybody focus every shift.”
While the Blue Jackets often have tried to get a matchup on Crosby with center Brandon Dubinsky and defenseman Jack Johnson, Malkin has often found himself on the ice against dynamic young Columbus center Ryan Johnansen.
Malkin isn’t overly concerned about matchups.
“Last game, we started good,” he said. “I don’t think about who we’re playing against — against Johansen or Dubinsky or Johnson. The whole team plays tough. Columbus is a good team.
“But, if we play 60 minutes, we win.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.