Evgeni Malkin had an October to forget for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but an incredible stretch of play in November seems to have the All-World forward sitting pretty for the remainder of the 2013-14 NHL season. Despite a ridiculous cycle of wings over the last few months for "Geno," he has found a way to kick his game up a notch despite coming out of the gates with rather pedestrian numbers.
Ten points in 13 games might not seem like a bad run for most players, but Malkin is capable of being the best player in the world when he's on. Yes, that includes his teammate in Sidney Crosby.
His recent three-point performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs is an indication of how Malkin looks and plays when he's firing on all cylinders. He had two goals and an assist November 27 and spurred the Penguins back from a 4-1 deficit before clinching the contest in the shootout.
Thus, 10 points and only three goals is a bit of a letdown month for the outstanding Russian forward. By early November, some bloggers were wondering if Malkin was ever going to break out or if the 2011-12 version of the player was gone for good.
Again, Malkin wasn't bad during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. He posted 33 points in 31 contests, but this was another season that was cut off by injuries and some cold stretches of play. You'd have to forgive fans for wondering where the old Geno had gone.
He answered the bell in a massive way in November, though, and he appears to be rounding into his MVP form once again.
A simple side-by-side comparison of Malkin's first two months shows you just about everything you need to know about his rapid improvement. Yet there's still one facet of his game that seems to be missing.
When Malkin scored 50 goals in 2011-12, he shot the puck 339 times in just 75 games, according to ESPN.com. That's a ridiculous output from a player that was looking cool, calm and collected every time he had the biscuit on his stick. He seemed to be passing at the perfect moments, but he wasn't passing up shots too often, either.
Malkin was on fire, and he knew it. This season (as was the case last year), he seems to have reverted to a pass-first center, and that has made him more predictable and less deadly. He's on pace for 240 shots this year, which would be the second-lowest total of his career.
Case in point: Malkin had six shots against the Leafs as the Pens stormed back to steal the extra point, and it resulted in a two-goal game. Pittsburgh is just a better team when Malkin is shooting the puck frequently.
To be clear, we're nitpicking on a guy who is currently on pace for 94-point season. With the way he is passing the puck right now, though, it's tough not to feel like he's missing out on a chance to shine as the NHL's most elite player and scorer.
Crosby has cooled off considerably after a rocket-like start, and now Malkin is only five points behind him for the team lead in points. The difference is that the Kid seems to have a lot more balance to his game at the moment.
Maybe it's just been a simple matter of Malkin trying to elevate the games of the wingers that he's been given. There's a pretty big difference between James Neal and Chuck Kobasew (or whoever the injury-depleted Penguins have been forced to slot in on the second unit), and Malkin is a smart guy that seems to grasp that.
There's another gear altogether, though. Anyone that has seen the "possessed Malkin" knows that he can take over an entire playoff series with his poise and stature. He's been putting the team on his back all month long and was only held pointless once in November. That's a pretty remarkable pace, and it will be interesting to see what December has in store for the electric and talented Malkin.
If he starts to shoot the puck more, could there be another scoring title or MVP trophy on his shelf at the end of the year? If November is any indication, the answer is yes. Absolutely, yes. Things are falling into place for Malkin, and if he can end up skating with some consistent wingers, then it wouldn't be surprising to see him erupt for another 100-plus point season.