Penguins' Malkin mired in slump
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It's not the shoulder he hurt earlier this season. Nor is it a knee, ankle or wrist.
Maybe the head. A little bit.
That's the only place where Penguins center Evgeni Malkin might be suffering lately as he endures what, for someone of his accomplishments, is a slump. He made it clear yesterday that any speculation he is injured is off base.
"No, I feel good. My body is not sore," Malkin said after practice at Mellon Arena.
In a 4-0 loss Monday to the New Jersey Devils at home, he had no points, a plus-minus rating of minus-2 and took a hooking penalty. Tonight, the Penguins play the Ottawa Senators at Mellon Arena before the NHL's Christmas break.
• Game: Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators, 7:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Goaltending: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Pascal Leclaire for Senators.
• Penguins: Have won 5 of past 6 games. ... Are 7-2 vs. Northeast Division. ... C Sidney Crosby is 10th in NHL in faceoffs (57.4 percent).
• Senators: Are 1-1 vs. Penguins, both at home. ... In past five games are 1 for 15 on power play (6.7 percent), 17 of 18 on penalty kill (94.4 percent). ... D Matt Carkner is among league leaders in penalty minutes (92).
• Hidden stat: Penguins are 0-3-1 in past four home games vs. Senators, 2-8-2 at home against them since start of 2002-03 season.
"I know my play is not good," Malkin said. "I'm going to try next game. I'm working today, tomorrow. I know it's a tough situation, but it will be OK."
Malkin has one point, an assist, in the past three games. He has two goals in the past 10 games. In the 18 games since he returned from a seven-game layoff because of a sore right shoulder, he has six goals and 20 points.
It's not as if Malkin is costing his team a bundle of points in the standings. The Penguins snapped a four-game losing streak when he returned to the lineup and are 13-4-1 since. They are 7-2-1 in Malkin's current two-goal stretch. But the dip in his production and the change from earlier in the season, when Malkin was, at times, dominating games, have been noticed by the Penguins.
"Geno's a guy who knows exactly how he's playing," coach Dan Bylsma said, using Malkin's nickname. "He always wants to play better, always wants to do more.
"Sometimes just focusing on his game is the best thing he can do, focusing on the details of what he does best. Sometimes it takes some reminding on that, but he's a guy who is going to get back to it. He's going to throw it all out there."
Malkin, the 2008-09 regular-season scoring champion with 113 points and the MVP of the playoffs as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, is on a slower pace this season with 10 goals and 34 points in 30 games. That projects to 25 goals and 85 points, keeping in mind that he missed those seven games.
Getting shots hasn't been a problem. Malkin had six Monday on a night when New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur set an NHL record with his 104th career shutout -- "Congratulations to Brodeur," Malkin said -- and has averaged 4.9 shots in his past 10 games.
Malkin traces the problem to the other end of the rink, his backchecking. He has been a minus his past two games after being even or a plus in every game he has played since the sixth game of the season.
"I shoot, but I need to work in the defensive zone more," Malkin said. "I have minus-2 [against New Jersey]. I need to play more in the defensive zone, and scoring will come."
At both ends of the ice, and often late in games, Malkin has had a little trouble sticking to the rules. He has had one or two minor penalties in each of his past eight games and is third on the club with 50 penalty minutes.
During the third period of a 2-1 shootout win Saturday at Buffalo, Malkin played the puck before he was clear of the penalty box and went right back in on what was called an interference infraction. Most of his penalties are of the tripping and hooking variety.
He accepted responsibility for those calls.
"I'm not scoring and I'm maybe a little bit mad and a little bit nervous and play a little bit too hard, try and hook guys," he said. "I need to stay relaxed and have no pressure."
Malkin figures there is one sure cure to his slide: "If I score a couple goals, everything is good. It's bad luck now. It's OK. My head is up, not down. I talk to my [linemates] and my teammates. It's fine."
Perhaps to give Malkin a jump, he and left winger Ruslan Fedotenko got a new linemate against the Devils when Tyler Kennedy replaced Pascal Dupuis on the right side. Kennedy practiced there yesterday.
Whether it's better luck, better backchecking, staying out of the penalty box or some combination of things, Malkin's teammates expect he will get things straightened out.
"He's getting chances, and he's setting guys up," fellow star center Sidney Crosby said. "You go through those stints. We all do. You go through times where it's tough."
He should know. While Malkin and a slew of others were hurt, Crosby went five games without a point. Since then, Crosby has 13 goals, 27 points in 18 games.
First Published December 23, 2009 12:00 am