Sputtering Sykora still best option as Malkin's linemate
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PHILADELPHIA -- Evgeni Malkin is off to a fabulous start in these Stanley Cup playoffs and is the biggest reason the Penguins have a two-games-to-one edge over the Philadelphia Flyers. I guess we shouldn't be surprised because he won the NHL scoring title in the regular season, but what he has done in the past three games is almost silly. Going into last night, he led everybody in the league with four goals and seven points. That's Lemieux-like. That's Gretzky-like. That's ...
OK, you get the idea.
It kind of makes you wonder, though, doesn't it?
What would the great Malkin be accomplishing if his linemates were doing something -- anything -- to help?
It's not so much Ruslan Fedotenko. At least he set up a Malkin goal in the Game 3 loss Sunday with a sweet cross-ice pass. It's more Petr Sykora. He has done nothing against the Flyers. Actually, he has done nothing for quite a while.
"Certainly, you're concerned about the number of goals in the past X amount of games," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was saying after an optional team practice yesterday at Wachovia Center.
Would you believe two Sykora goals in the past 20 games that he has played, counting the three games against the Flyers when he managed just five shots?
That's not nearly good enough for a player whose primary value to the Penguins -- some would say his only value -- is as a goal-scorer.
Now, maybe Sykora isn't healthy. It's not as if he's making excuses, but it's fair to wonder. His performance alone is enough to make you think he still might be bothered by some sort of shoulder or back problem. There's no way of telling for sure. The Penguins, as all NHL clubs do, treat injuries like state secrets and Sykora didn't take part in any on-ice work yesterday and wasn't available to discuss his health, his lack of goal-scoring production, Game 4 against the Flyers tonight, the rotten Philadelphia weather, the Steelers' draft prospects for this weekend or anything else, for that matter.
But Bylsma clearly believes Sykora is healthy enough to play. He would scratch him if he didn't. Bylsma didn't sound like a man yesterday who is thinking of taking Sykora out of his lineup anytime soon, mentioning Sykora's three good scoring chances in Game 3. But he also didn't sound like a guy who is going to be patient with Sykora forever.
Not at this time of the year.
Not with so much at stake.
"We have options with our depth," Bylsma said, mentioning Miroslav Satan as one possibility on Malkin's line and Max Talbot and Pascal Dupuis as two others.
I don't know about you, I don't like any of those options.
The Penguins thought so little of Satan that they sent him to the minors in early March. Although he has scored 354 career NHL goals -- 17 in 65 games this season before his demotion to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- he never quite lived up to the expectations that he would be an ideal linemate for Malkin or Sid Crosby. Sure, there were salary-cap issues after the trade for Bill Guerin. But, really, if management wanted to keep Satan, couldn't it have found another way to beat the cap? It's not as if the team missed him. It made most of its 18-3-4 finishing kick to the regular season without him.
Moving up Talbot or Dupuis from the fourth line and scratching Sykora isn't much of an answer, either. Now, you're messing with the chemistry of two lines. The Dupuis-Talbot-Craig Adams line has played OK in these playoffs. And there's no guarantee that Malkin would play better with a new linemate, although Talbot and Dupuis have skated on his wing in the past.
No, for now, as long as Sykora is healthy enough, he remains the best option for Malkin.
"He's been getting some good looks at the net in the last two or three games," Bylsma said. "That's what he needs to do to get some goals."
It's nice to think those Sykora chances will start paying off soon.
For Sykora's sake, sure.
But also for Malkin and the Penguins.
First Published April 21, 2009 12:00 am