Cook: Malkin lives up to lofty standards



It says something about Evgeni Malkin's hockey talents that he can be the Penguins' top scorer in their first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders, score in all six games, lead the NHL in assists and still feel as if he has to do more for his team.

It says Malkin's talents are extraordinary.

Malkin wasn't kidding when he said he would play better against the Ottawa Senators in Round 2. He was the best player on the Consol Energy Center ice Tuesday night when the Penguins took Game 1, 4-1. He made it six multipoint games out of seven with a goal and an assist. He shares the NHL scoring lead with Boston's David Krejci with 13 points.

You know it's going to be a good night for the Penguins when Malkin's parents, Vladimir and Natalia, get a lot of scoreboard face-time early in the game. So it was Tuesday night when Malkin tapped home a great pass from teammate Chris Kunitz after some strong forechecking by linemate James Neal to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 12:15 of the first period. It turned out to be the winning goal.

You should have heard the crowd roar for all of the Malkins.

"He was dominant early," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Malkin the prodigy. "The way he was skating, with him holding on to the puck and getting to the net, he's pretty tough to stop when he's going like that."

Malkin was excellent from the first shift. Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson made a nice save on his wrist shot 2 1/2 minutes into the game when the Penguins were on the power play, but Malkin stuck with the play. He ended up getting the primary assist on defenseman Paul Martin's goal at 2:41 of the first period, the first goal of the game.

You could see Malkin was feeling it. He felt it all night. He didn't hesitate to get into a little pushing and shoving with Senators center Kyle Turris in the second period. He gave as good as he received.

But, with Malkin, goals and points always are going to be the measuring stick. His assist and goal are what we have come to expect from him. That can be something of a curse, right?

Sometimes, maybe we expect too much.

It's not easy to score goals in the NHL playoffs. Did you happen to see that Washington's Alex Ovechkin -- like Crosby, a finalist for the NHL's most valuable player award this season -- didn't have a point in the final five games of the Capitals' seven-game, first-round elimination by the New York Rangers?

Malkin was pretty good against the Islanders by comparison, would you not agree?

OK, I have to admit, I almost felt guilty thinking that Malkin wasn't so terrific in that series despite his 11 points, including nine assists. It was the best playoff series of his career in terms of points, better than any he had during the run to the Stanley Cup in 2009 when he won the Conn Smythe Award as the NHL's postseason MVP. He had nine points in six games against Philadelphia that year, 10 points in seven games against Washington, nine points in four games against Carolina and eight points in seven games against Detroit.

But then I read the reports in which Malkin said he was at least a little disappointed in his performance against the Islanders. It probably had something to with the fact he converted just two of his 22 shots into goals. Or that he had a horrible giveaway, leading to the winning goal by Islanders star John Tavares in Game 4. Or that he had 13 penalty minutes.

Maybe it was all that.

"I don't know," Malkin said with a quick laugh when asked if this was his best game of the playoffs. "Maybe this was a little better because I had no turnovers. That's very important to me."

There was another question for Malkin about his expectations.

"I'm not going to score in every game," he said. "But playing better in the defensive zone is important to me."

Crosby knows better than any other player about being an elite talent and never feeling as if you are doing enough for your team. He can relate to Malkin's disappointment -- if that really is the right word -- over his play in the first round.

"I thought he played well," Crosby said. "But you don't reach his level without having high expectations. He's pushing himself to be even better."

Now is the right time for that.

Maybe Malkin finally is getting healthy. He missed four games at midseason because of a concussion, missed nine games because of a shoulder injury and then missed four more after aggravating that problem. That was a big reason he finished with just nine goals in 31 games after scoring 50 last season when he was the NHL's MVP.

"I try to play good every game," Malkin said, quietly.

The man usually does.

This one was better than most.

Those of us who watch him should be happy.

He should be happy.

penguins - roncook

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. First Published May 15, 2013 4:15 AM


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