Evgeni Malkin may be doing better this year because of one simple reason: his mother's home cooking.
During an interview, Geno said that he feels good and is happy his mother is there to cook for him. She cooks his favorite beef dish for supper and makes him soup before games.
It's not just this time of the year. In February of 2008, there was an article written about the Penguins' disappointment that Evgeni's parents were soon to end their recent visit.
During Natalia and Vladimir's visit, the Penguins played eight games. In those eight games, Geno scored seven goals and tallied nine assists.
Over the next eight games, he scored four goals and had seven helpers. The previous eight games, he scored six goals and had 10 assists.
So maybe it wasn't a drastic change during the middle of the season, especially a season in which Malkin went down to the wire in a points race with countryman Alexander Ovechkin.
But let's consider his output during the playoffs in 2008. In 20 games, he scored 12 goals and had 10 assists. However, his output during the six games of the Stanley Cup Final was an assist on the dramatic Game Five overtime goal and a goal and an assist in the Game Six losing effort.
He was run down at the end of the season and seemed almost lost by the time the long grind of the regular season and the relentlessness of the playoffs were over.
So far in these playoffs, he has played 17 games and has 12 goals and 16 assists - tied with Sidney Crosby in points.
Geno seems to have more energy than ever, able to take charge of games late in the season and throughout the playoffs with little time off and even two back-to-back games against the Washington Capitals.
What's the difference this year? His parents cheering him on from the stands and Natalia's home cookin'.
But with home cooking comes more than just good food. It is clear that his parents couldn't be prouder of their all-star son.
It's also clear that Evgeni loves his parents and even replied to a query about whether or not he had a girlfriend, that he did not have a girlfriend, but that when his mother is in town, she's his girlfriend. I'm sure if he was able to answer in Russian, his remark would have sounded less incestuous and more like, "she's my best friend."
It always helps to have your mom cook you your favorite foods. If you watch the video in which Evgeni and Alyonka Larionov make pierogies, I think you'll agree that Geno's mom cooking might be a little more helpful in his case.
But the really valuable thing here is comfort level—one of those intangible things that makes everyone perform better or at least not worry about performing better. In 2008, Malkin gave very few interviews in English.
This year, he's not worried if people will give him a hard time for his broken English and gives interviews, even takes questions from reporters during postgame press conferences.
Evgeni Malkin is comfortable. His parents are watching in the stands just like when he was growing up. His mother is cooking for him at home and doting on him. He not only has both his parents to talk to, but his father was also a hockey player and put Evgeni in skates when he was three.
Having the most important people in the world around you at one of the most important points in your career is incalculably valuable.
Evgeni Malkin is one of the luckiest guys in the world. He is blessed with enormous talent and has wonderful parents who raised him, "not as a star but as a regular person." That's why he's so likable and genuine.
Good luck Geno! I hope you bring the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh this year—not for me and not for the fans, but for your parents and for yourself. You are a champion and you deserve it.