Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin Deserves Top Billing Both On And Off The Ice


Jan 7, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) skates with the puck as Boston Bruins center

Chris Kelly

(23) defends during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Boston won 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who’s watched the Pittsburgh Penguins at all this season can see that Evgeni Malkin is playing dominant hockey on a consistent basis.

The 28-year-old center is absolutely at his peak as a player, putting his rare combination of power, finesse and range to effective use against NHL defenses. Even though his linemates have been in flux, Malkin has produced 45 points in 40 games, just slightly below his career rate of 1.22 points per contest.

Malkin’s running mate Sidney Crosby has churned out nearly as many points (43) in fewer games (37), but to my eye the most dynamic Penguin on the ice most nights has been No. 71.

I hate to harp on that too much, as Crosby has been a godsend to the Penguins franchise and remarkably reliable – when healthy – in generating puck possession, scoring chances and points during his decade in the league. It’s not simplistic to say that without his arrival in 2005, the Pens would likely be skating in Kansas City.

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However, on a recent trip to Consol Energy Center, I was struck by how much of the Pens’ marketing is singularly focused on Crosby. From the huge mural of Sid on the upper concourse to the merchandise truck emblazoned with “87” parked outside the Fifth Avenue entrance, a casual observer could be excused for thinking Crosby was the team’s lone superstar.

As Penguins fans know, it’s not all Sid’s show. That has been especially evident when Crosby missed significant chunks of time in 2008, 2011 and 2012; during those stretches, Malkin was transcendent – much like he is now. Let’s also not forget that Malkin was just as important as Crosby during the 2009 run to the Stanley Cup.

I understand that, even though he was drafted first, Malkin came to town one year after Crosby due to circumstances outside his control. I also get that Malkin’s command of English limits most fans’ ability to connect with him. (Although Crosby has spoken the language since birth and seldom delivers much in terms of insight.)

At the same time, Malkin deserves to share top billing with Crosby in all areas, not just on the ice. Let’s see a few more inscriptions of “71” around Consol and anywhere else the Penguins have command over imagery.

It may not matter at all to Malkin, but giving him his due sends an important message that the Pens truly appreciate all he’s done and what he means to this franchise.

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