No need to worry about Penguins' Malkin
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Is Evgeni Malkin harboring secrets about his game?
The Penguins forward has been seen recently carrying an armful of sticks to and from practice, and switching among them more often than most players swig water.
He was spotted on the ice skating alone following an afternoon game last weekend, after Consol Energy Center had otherwise cleared out.
Wednesday, he was uncharacteristically one of the first players on the ice for practice at Southpointe and one of the last ones off.
Has his confidence been shattered after a slow start in terms of points? Is it a raging case of newfound superstition?
"No," Malkin said with a laugh Wednesday.
There's a reasonable explanation -- just as there is, from his perspective, about why the highly skilled player has slipped to under a point-a-game pace nearly a third of the way through the 2010-11 season.
Game: Penguins vs. Atlanta Thrashers, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ondrej Pavelec for Thrashers.
Penguins: Are 5-1 vs. Southeast Division. ... Penalty killing, 90.5 percent, led NHL going into Wednesday night. ... Penguins team goals-against average, 2.33, among best in league.
Thrashers: Are 2-1 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Power play on road, 26.1 percent, among best in NHL. ... Dustin Byfuglien leads NHL with 5 game-winning goals.
Of note: Atlanta has not allowed a short-handed goal -- one of just two such teams before Wednesday night's games. The Penguins ranked second with five short-handed goals scored.
He is spending extra time on the ice and with different sticks because he is breaking in new skates and is vacillating between an older model of stick and a newer model with a straighter blade that enhances his backhand maneuvers.
As for his dip in production -- he has eight goals, 22 points in 25 games after finishing with more points than games his first four NHL seasons, including a league-topping 113 in 2008-09 -- Malkin feels secure in knowing he's playing well and getting sufficient scoring chances despite what the score sheets scream.
He is not overly concerned about his numbers.
"A little bit, but not too much," he said. "I think it's maybe some bad luck. But we have won the last seven games, and I think I have helped my teammates. I'm trying to help on the power play and in the defensive zone. I think I'm playing not bad, but I'm not scoring a lot. But we're winning, and I'm happy."
There's every reason to
think tonight at home against Atlanta is as good a game as any, and maybe a better one, to log some points. Malkin has picked the Thrashers' bones. He has 10 goals, 27 points in 17 career games against Atlanta. That includes a hat trick in a 4-2 road win Nov. 13 -- accounting for more than a third of his goals this season.
Malkin hasn't been shy about trying to score. Going into play Wednesday, he led the NHL with 115 shots, or 4.6 a game. He said that stems from talks with his coaches.
"They tell me, 'Every shift you should try to shoot because you have a great shot,' " Malkin said. "I listen to them. If you try to shoot every shift, sometimes you have goals. You always look to score."
If Malkin were able to, say, double his 7 percent shooting accuracy, he might challenge center Sidney Crosby for the team lead in goals. Crosby led the NHL with 41 points, one ahead of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos before play Wednesday.
Coach Dan Bylsma earlier this week defended Malkin, saying that while everyone would like to see better numbers, Malkin is playing well and meeting his defensive responsibilities better than he did last season.
"I'm not scoring like Sidney, like Stamkos, but I'm trying to play better in the defensive zone and passing," Malkin, 24, said. "I'm happy my coach likes my game and he says that."
Crosby was just as strong in support of Malkin.
"I think he's been solid," Crosby said. "He's creating a lot, creating turnovers. He's been responsible at both ends. Sometimes it's just a matter of the puck going in or the chance he sets up going in. That's really all it has to do with."
Malkin said he's not bothered by the fact he has had various linemates this season and has switched between center and right wing. Lately, Matt Cooke has played on the left side of the second line, with Malkin and Max Talbot switching as play dictates between center and the right side, with each taking certain faceoffs.
Things could change again when center Jordan Staal finally gets healthy. He is expected back in the next two to three weeks after a foot infection and broken hand delayed his season debut. The Penguins began talking last summer about placing Malkin on Staal's wing on the second line.
"We hope [Staal] comes back soon," Malkin said. "I think he'll help the whole team, not just my line or me. We'll see if the coach wants us to play together or not. It's not my choice to say. It would be awesome if we play together, but we have good lines now, too."
First Published December 2, 2010 12:00 am