Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Malkin ditches nerves, excels in playoff return

- By Jason Mackey

If Penguins center Evgeni Malkin keeps this up, perhaps he’ll stand a chance during the NHL’s bicentenni­al celebratio­n.

In the meantime, Mr. 101 will have to settle for the playoff scoring lead, which Malkin held before Saturday’s games.

Malkin’s 11 points were three more than teammate Phil Kessel and gave him a three-point lead on Washington’s T.J. Oshie, but it’s not just the offense that has helped Malkin stand out.

His presence on the power play gave the Penguins a significan­t advantage over the Blue Jackets. Malkin’s twoway game also showed few signs of rust after he missed 13 games to close the regular season because of a shoulder injury.

“I was a little nervous when I came back,” Malkin said Saturday the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “Now, I feel so much better. Every game I have more confidence.”

Malkin probably isn’t going to steal any Selke Trophy votes next season, but you can certainly say he made some defensive improvemen­ts against Columbus.

Five-on-five, Malkin was on the ice for just one goal-against the entire series. His Scoring Chances Against Per 60 Minutes (SCA60) mark, according to Corsica. Hockey, was 6.34 — somewhere in the middle of the regular season marks of current Selke candidates Patrice Bergeron (5.62) of the Bruins and Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler (7.96).

Five games is obviously a crazy small sample size, but the point is that Malkin was plenty good enough in his own end.

“The coaching staff has seen more of a complete game [out of Malkin],” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His offense speaks for itself. He’s so talented. I think everybody sees that. He’s also making a commitment to play away from the puck. I think that’s important for us moving forward.”

The Penguins’ power play went 5 for 15 against the Blue Jackets and struck twice in the decisive Game 5, including Sidney Crosby’s man-advantage tally that swung the momentum for good in the Penguins favor.

Four of Malkin’s points came on the power play, including the primary assist on that Crosby tally, but it’s tough to quantify the totality of Malkin’s impact when the Penguins are up a man.

With Malkin on the ice, the Penguins have the threat of an additional, lethal shot, and he’s also able to think about the game quickly enough to keep the puck moving.

Not that Conor Sheary — Malkin’s replacemen­t — is incapable, but there are few NHL players who can do what Malkin does.

“They were really good,” Sullivan said of the power play. “I thought our power play certainly was a difference-maker in the series.”

Sullivan credited clean breakouts and effective zone entries for the strong performanc­e. Malkin was especially pleased with how the Penguins kept things simple.

“We’re not trying to do too much,” Malkin said. “We’ve worked on a couple things. It’s been good.”

Of course, Malkin also likes to deflect credit to his teammates, and this was no exception. In Malkin’s mind, Phil Kessel — who did account for two of those five power-play goals — is the unit’s most important player.

“He’s the most dangerous guy on our power play because he has great hands,” Malkin said. “He can shoot. He can pass to me or [Sidney Crosby]. He’s our guy. We give him the puck. After, we see what he does.”

 ??  ?? Evgeni Malkin Playoff-best 11 points in five games
Evgeni Malkin Playoff-best 11 points in five games

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