The sporting world is a fickle place. One minute you're on top of the mountain. The next, you're being hurdled off the top.
The free-fall for Evgeni Malkin hasn't stopped.
The Penguins' star and one half of the team's dynamic duo with Sidney Crosby, Malkin, was highly praised after a tremendous regular season and 18 points through the first 12 games of the playoffs this year.
After picking up just one point in his last six games, with none of those coming in the first four of the Finals, the critics have come calling. He has been lambasted in stories around the country and receives plenty of blame for the Pens' failures in the Finals.
Is it deserved?
Well, yes and no.
His play on the ice hasn't been up to par and he deserves to hear about it—as does any pro athlete.
The biggest difference between Malkin and, say, teammate Crosby is that Malkin is viewed differently from a media perspective.
Malkin isn't strong in his English skills and isn't comfortable speaking the language. And it's always easy to pick on a guy who can't defend himself and offer up an explanation.
He's also acknowledged that he's a bit tired. Which is understandable, seeing as this season has provided the most games he's ever played in a season.
But most guys wouldn't admit to fatigue. Not in these circumstances.
His coach and teammates have come to his defense, which is what the big Russian needs right now. His confidence has been shaken in most part thanks to a Detroit defense that closes off the space he requires to dazzle with the puck.
"We're supporting him," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien told reporters after the team arrived in Detroit on Sunday afternoon. "I met him before the game to show him that we believe in him, because he's a kid that we really believe in. Things are not going the way that he'd like to or we'd like to, as well. But in the meantime, he's working hard and he's trying."
One mustn't forget one important thing here. Malkin is just 21 years old.
Kids struggle in the game at times, and it's hard to remember that when this 21-year-old kid is already a world-class player.
It's that inability to relate through the media, as Crosby does on a daily basis, that hurts Malkin and offers up a different image.
"He's an important player for our team, and with good reason," Therrien said. "He's facing a tough time. He's a good kid. He means well. And it's not a matter that he doesn't want to have success. He wants success."
One last important thing: Malkin isn't the first of his kind.
You might recall a certain Red Wing who struggled throughout the playoffs in his first few tries. He picked up just three goals and twelve assists in his first 42 playoff games before tallying 16 in 18 games last season and 20 points in 20 games this spring.
That Red Wing? Pavel Datsyuk.
So it's not the end of the world, at least not outside of Pittsburgh.
Malkin's struggles happen to plenty of young players. It's a part of the game and a part of life. Let's all hope that his confidence is only temporarily shaken because a talent like Malkin's is something the NHL can't afford to lose.