Why Evgeni Malkin Is the Engine Driving the Pittsburgh Penguins' Playoff Run

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2013

UNIONDALE, NY - MAY 05: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 5, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. The Penguins defeated the Islanders 5-4 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The first player you think of when it comes to the Pittsburgh Penguins is Sidney Crosby.

It makes sense. A healthy Crosby is the face of the NHL. He may be hated in Philadelphia and New York City, but he is a truly magical player who is gifted in many ways.

When it comes to consistency and all-around play, though, the Penguins look to the other Hart Trophy winner on their roster. They look to Evgeni Malkin.

Geno may not be quite as charismatic or dramatic as the healthy version of Crosby. However, when it comes to playing the game in all three zones, Malkin can do even more for his team than Crosby can.

While Crosby is scoring at a great rate in the postseason—12 points in eight games—he is not 100 percent healthy and comfortable.

Remember, Crosby suffered a broken jaw and lost several teeth when a deflected slap shot hit him in the face in late March. His mouth is still a mess, according to the colorful description of the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno.

Crosby missed the final 12 games of the regular season and the Penguins' first playoff game.

Since returning, he has been one of the best offensive players in the NHL playoffs, but he has also been protective and concerned about his jaw. He is skating with speed and explosiveness, but he knows he can't afford to get hit with the puck again. He has to make sure he stays upright and healthy.

Malkin is scoring at an even higher rate than Crosby. He has 14 points in nine games and an array of offensive moves that allow him to score or set up a teammate in an instant.

Combining the talents of Malkin and Crosby is what gives the Penguins a huge advantage over nearly every team in the league. No one can match the one-two punch of the two best Penguins.

But Malkin can give the Penguins something that Crosby can't. He can play competitively in the defensive zone and do it at key moments.

Malkin did just that in Game 2 against Ottawa when he blocked a third-period shot that kept the Senators from possibly tying the game and sending it to overtime.

Crosby had a hat trick in that 4-3 Pittsburgh victory, so Malkin's play was easily overlooked, but he got back into proper position and kept the Senators from capitalizing on a legitimate scoring opportunity.

In the Game 3 loss to Ottawa, Malkin was again in the perfect position to deflect Milan Michalek's pass to Daniel Alfredsson that resulted in the tying goal in the final seconds of regulation, but he was looking at the puck instead of Alfredsson.

Malkin will make the occasional mistake, but he usually finds a way to make up for it. He was flying in the Ottawa zone in the overtime that followed, but was foiled by Senators goalie Craig Anderson.

Malkin is a proven playoff performer. He won the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy when the Pens won their last championship. He combines his incredible skill set with the ability to outwit opposing defensemen and goalies when he has a chance to score.

That makes him nearly unstoppable.

If Crosby was flying the way he was earlier in the regular season, Malkin could go along for the ride and play his role as the No. 2 scorer.

Even though Crosby is producing, there is some self-preservation to his game. That's understandable, given the circumstances.

The Penguins don't have to worry. They have Malkin to lead the way.