Evgeni Malkin Finally Being Utilized Properly with Penguins Under Dan Bylsma

Kevin MillerCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2011

So here I was last week watching Wednesday night’s matchup between Pittsburgh and Tampa, a blowout that began with Evgeni Malkin scoring a neck-snapping goal seven seconds into the game.

In the third period three Penguins players happened to be in the penalty box simultaneously, and for a second I thought former head coach Michel Therrien was behind the bench at the time.

Why? Because Evgeni Malkin was penalty killing.

Now some may write this instance off as a necessity, having to use a star player more noted for his offensive prowess rather than any grinder the Penguins seem to have a plethora of.

It seems to me that many have forgotten or perhaps never even knew that Malkin was considered among the elite of the elite two-way forwards in the game.

Let us rewind back to before Geno was in the NHL.

Many scouts were of the opinion that Malkin could easily be ranked as the No. 2 two-way forward in Russia, not simply among players playing in Russia at the time but among all Russian players worldwide. I recall reading one scouting report assessment (years ago, mind you) that made a convincing argument that Malkin was second to Pavel Datsyuk from a two-way standpoint with Geno having far more offensive upside.

I would even go so far to say that the comparisons that could be made between Evgeni Malkin and Mario Lemieux are vast and under-noted. I will take that a step further and say that Malkin is a 70-30 hybrid of Lemieux and Jari Kurri. In contemporary terms he would be most comparable to Datsyuk as a center and Marian Hossa as a winger.

During last Thursday night’s game in Montreal, one in which Sidney Crosby had to sit out due to injury, head coach Dan Bylsma decided to dress seven defensemen and double-shift Malkin. Typically Malkin would start out with Craig Adams and Mike Rupp; later Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy would replace those two while Geno was still buzzing around the ice. Shades of 2008 under Michel Therrien if you ask me!

Now I know this occurred because Captain Crosby was out, and it is unlikely to happen on a regular basis upon his return, but hear me out for a second...

Looking back over his career, there have been two reasons why Geno has truly shined on a consistent basis. The first would be when Crosby was out of the lineup; the other included times when Malkin was given more responsibility and time on ice (often one instance would coincide with the other).

I remember when Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury were both out with high ankle sprains in early 2008; Malkin and Ty Conklin stepped in and stepped up their respective games to a level that we had never seen from either during the regular season.

I believe much of that was caused by the system Michel Therrien implemented; mind you, though, that while I think Coach Therrien got the most out of Geno, I also believe he gave him too much of a workload. Therrien would play Malkin in ALL situations, and while he could and did get everything out of Geno, it seems that Geno was worn out by the time the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals rolled around.

Fast-forward to a year after that. Evgeni Malkin has the Art Ross Trophy in his back pocket and would be rewarded with the Conn Smythe Trophy after putting up points in the playoffs like no one had since the aforementioned Mario Lemieux. I think the incredible turnaround came because of new head coach Dan Bylsma, who relaxed Malkin and found the balance he needed so that his responsibilities were better-rounded.

Since then, however, it seems that Bylsma had changed the previous formula that won the Penguins a Stanley Cup up until having tweaked it over the last few months. I don’t want to go into the 2009-2010 season because we all know that Geno was playing with nagging injuries all season long. Suffice it to say that this was a trial period for Bylsma to relearn how to properly use him after the 2009 Cup run.

Evgeni Malkin got off to a slow start in this current season and sustained a knee injury within the past two months. We are just starting to get a hint of that juggernaut that has been slumbering since summer 2009.

The biggest thing is finding chemistry with certain linemates and keeping them together as any game situation calls for. Malkin as a center plays best with Arron Asham, Max Talbot and Chris Kunitz. As a winger you have to put Geno with Staal or Crosby; maybe an up-and-coming skill center like Mark Letestu could fit the bill as well.

Here is my key to keeping Malkin at his current standard of play: Keep giving Malkin more responsibility outside of playing offense—a Geno that plays more seems to be a Geno that plays better all around. The thing is to find that perfect balance so that he is not overworked.

I would recommend double shifting him more often like was done in the game last week against the Habs, even when Crosby is in the lineup. Also get him some penalty killing time when feasible—by that I mean when we have a decent lead or when there is a parade to the penalty box.

I truly believe that Geno wants to show off his seemingly endless skill set in all situations. He is a backchecking terror who can generate takeaways like the Hamburglar.

If I may quote one of my favorite samurai, Date Masamune, "Rectitude carried to excess hardens into stiffness; benevolence indulged beyond measure sinks into weakness." I assess that the first line could relate to Geno under Therrien and the second relates to Geno under Bylsma. Give Malkin too much and you burn him out; give him too little and he becomes complacent.

For what it's worth, I am of the opinion that Dan Bylsma is doing what is best for Evgeni at this time. I, for one, like what I’ve been seeing since his return from the knee injury, and I have faith that we’ll see a return to true excellence from Evgeni Malkin on a regular basis, like we had prior to the 2009-2010 season.

I would like to thank a fellow writer for previously encouraging me to write something along these lines despite my stubborn nature. Bless your heart, Noble Adversary!


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