For most teams that win the Stanley Cup, there will always be a reckoning with father time and competitive cycles. But there will always be outliers, and one of them — the battered but rejuvenated Pittsburgh Penguins — is about to get even better with the return of superstar forward Evgeni Malkin.
To be where the Penguins are now — fourth in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the third-place Washington Capitals and three behind the second-place New York Rangers in the Caps and Rangers — is this. Thanks to the culture and talent that still powers the pen, even though Malkin and captain Sidney Crosby are in the back nine during their Hall of Fame careers. They’ve proven they can win without a fully healthy roster. Pittsburgh played without Crosby for the first 12 games of the season, and Malkin just returned for his first regular-season game of the year.
Injuries plague the Penguins: Only two players, forward Evan Rodriguez and guard John Marino, have appeared in all 35 games for Pittsburgh. Forward Brian Rust has played in just 15 games; leading scorer Jack Gunzel has missed six games; guard Chris Le Tang has missed four games. However, with all that talent out of the way, all Pens has done is become a monster opponent for any NHL team.
After Crosby came back, it took Pittsburgh a few games to figure out, and when they did, the victory almost never stopped. After a three-game losing streak in mid-November, their record dropped to 5-6-4, and the Penguins went 16-3-1 and 21-9-5 all the way. After their 10-game winning streak ended in a 3-2 loss to Dallas on Jan. 8, the Pens’ schedule gave them ample opportunity to put Malkin back into the offensive mix and regroup with nearly all members. ‘s lineup.
That’s not to say Malkin needs a ton of landing strips to keep pace with his teammates. In the first game of his return, against Anaheim on Jan. 11, Malkin scored twice — one in an even power game and one in a power game — And assisted on a 3-pointer and was the best player in their win over the Ducks. Check out Pittsburgh’s opponent in the next 10 games: Los Angeles. San Jose. Struggling Vegas team. After that, they played against the Senators, Blue Jackets, Jets, Coyotes, Seattle, Detroit and Kings. Malkin is likely to be taken aback. And he’ll make the NHL’s 10th-best offense (3.29 goals per game) even more dangerous.
We insist that the Penguins’ area of greatest concern is their backup goalie, and current No. 2 Casey DeSmith isn’t all smooth sailing. Does Pens GM Ron Hextall really want to take the chance to start goalie Tristan Jarry? In his defense, he’s already posting stellar individual numbers (1.91 goals, below average. 0.932 save percentage and 18-6-4 record) this year — won’t be in the season for the second year in a row Crash in the playoffs? Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan apparently didn’t believe DeSmith was a viable second option last year, leaving Jarry in the lurch throughout the postseason chaos. Has that changed? The goalie will come at the trade deadline, and that position is exactly what Hextall needs to address.
Hextall doesn’t have to worry about the team’s offense, though. With Malkin back and the team’s overall fitness getting better, Pittsburgh will be terrifying for those Metro Division teams. They’re just 3 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the Metro’s top spot, and despite the Canes having two games, Pittsburgh has been as good as Carolina over the past 10 games.
Adding Malkin to the Pens’ roster is adding fuel to the fire, which has already shown it’s out of control. Ultimately, as an adversary, you may have no choice but to run away from it and hope you don’t get burned.