Gorman: Evgeni Malkin speaks up for Penguins
Whether it’s with a prank, prediction or premonition, Evgeni Malkin has a sixth sense for when to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Malkin showed his impeccable timing again Wednesday, just when the Penguins needed a diversion in this Stanley Cup Final.
Just as pressure was beginning to build for Phil Kessel to end his six-game goal drought, Malkin spoke up and predicted his favorite wingman will “show his best” against the Nashville Predators in Game 5 on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
Although the Penguins have a strong leadership group, starting with captain Sidney Crosby and veterans Matt Cullen and Marc-Andre Fleury, Malkin has made it his modus operandi to make such moments about himself.
“I try my best. I’m not a quiet guy in the locker room,” Malkin said. “I’m trying to talk a little bit after intermission, after the first period, after the second period. …
“I know I can play better on the ice. (On Thursday), I’ll try to show my best game. It’s timing. It’s a good time to show your best game. There’s only three games left. … I believe in my team, and I believe in myself.”
Where have we heard those words before? Malkin made a similar statement before Game 6 at Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference final, proclaiming the Penguins were “coming back to Pittsburgh, for sure.”
Malkin also famously (and correctly) predicted the Penguins would rally from a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 6 of their second-round series to win the deciding Game 7: “If they think they won an easy game and because of that they think they can win Game 7, I say no.”
When Geno speaks, the Penguins listen. Where Crosby is a daily constant in facing the media, Malkin talks only when he finds it necessary to get an important message across.
“I’m proud of my team. I’m proud of every player here,” Malkin said. “It’s not been the easiest season for us, with so many injuries. We still play like a good team. I know (Thursday) we’ll play so hard. It’s a good situation for us. We’re 2-2, even against a good team. We play here, at home. It’s a good chance to take the lead of this series.”
Malkin also knows when to break the tension with some levity, as he did when he joked about Max Talbot’s bad hands in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
Talbot, playing on Malkin’s wing, scored two goals in the Game 7 victory at Detroit. It’s a gift that’s underrated but appreciated.
“I think he always is fairly animated, especially around the locker room, in a casual environment,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s got a great sense of humor. I think he enjoys his teammates. I know he loves the game. I think he’s one of those guys that is a fun guy to be around.”
Malkin also is capable of shifting the storyline, knowing a bold statement can overshadow a goalie debate or, even more important, the inability to score goals.
The Penguins are desperate for goals after scoring two in as many games in Nashville. It’s an odd predicament for a team that boasts four of the top eight goal scorers in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“If you score one goal, it’s not enough to win,” Malkin said. “We need to shoot the puck more. We know we can score more than one goal.”
Malkin complained about the power play after Game 3, when the Penguins went 0 for 7. Given he was the only player to score on the man-advantage in this series — on a five-on-three — it forced the team to address its problems.
The Penguins know they have the talent to break this series open, if only they can start putting the puck in the net.
“If we play the same (as we did in Game 4),” Malkin said, “we’ll score more, for sure.”
Unless Geno says no, it must be so.