Hey, look at that, the Pens are 8-3-2, but…
Rewind back to the middle of September. We're sitting in the seats at Consol on that first day of training camp. I say to you that at the end of October, the Pens:
would have taken 18 of a possible 26 points,
would have James Neal sitting at nine goals,
would have nine points in 12 games from Jordan Staal,
would be allowing just barely over two goals a game as a team, and by the way,
because of injuries, would be doing this without ANYTHING from Crosby and limited contributions from Malkin, Orpik, Michalek and Dustin Jeffrey.
Let's face it, if I laid that out, you'd be happier than Buddy the Guard Dog when he realizes it's Steak Night at the Chateau du Stoosh.
But instead the last few days we've spent time discussing what kind of season Evgeni Malkin's had so far.
Malkin has been active for only six of the 13 games the Pens have played this year. Suffice it to say, that isn't the start we really envisioned when we sat in Consol during camp or preseason games and watched Geno flying around the ice. And if we're frustrated as fans, it's got to be many times worse for Malkin; this isn't the start he hoped to have either. But as we've mentioned before, he's coming off of major knee surgery, and this is something that takes some 12-18 months before recovery is complete and the knee feels remotely "normal."
He's going to have to take nights off. And when he plays, he's going to have bad games from time to time. Or he's going to have good games with a few bad moments. Crosby has them, too. So did Jagr. So did Mario.
And Malkin's had them this year.
Malkin had a tendency in recent years to take frustration-driven penalties, and guess who leads the team in PIMs (12) and minors (6) this year? He took two of them in the Toronto game that led to goals against. He took three minors against the Flames. So that's valid criticism, but there's also this. He's played in six games. 10 of those PIMs were concentrated in two games.
(And for what it's worth, the only goals he's scored this year so far came against…Calgary and Toronto. What does that mean? Get him to throw down and we may see hats, I suppose.)
He has been caught a few times stick-handling too much. Like Tony said last night on tPBRadio, though, that's the blessing and the curse that's going to occasionally come with the great of Malkin's game.
He loves to carry the puck, and he's an elite playmaker. He's going to try to create. Many times it'll work out great.
The curse? Sometimes it's bad…mind-numbingly bad. Drop passes. Forced passes. Trying to stickhandle through the entire defense before losing the puck on a turnover so bad, you automatically drop an f-bomb right in front of your kids, parents or significant other.
Not shooting enough? He has 16 shots in 6 games, 2.67 shots per game. He's also been credited with 10 misses, so he's getting the puck to the net a little more than four times a game. The Pens need more from him there, especially given his presence on the powerplay, but that'll come around. It's early. Hang around Jimmy Neal, Geno. He'll show you.
And I think that's what it should come back to. It's early. He's played in just six games, battling what are typical complications from a major knee surgery that he had just nine months ago. No one is immune to criticism, but given the bigger picture here (8-3-2! Neal! Goaltending! Staal! Despite all these effing injuries!), I think allowing him a 20 or 30-game sample isn't too much to ask.
In order for this team to go where it wants, there's no doubt that it's going to need Malkin to be much closer to the player he was in 2007-08 and 2008-09 (about 1.3 points per game), not so much the one he's been the last couple of years. We get that.
But if we want to stick with this six-game sample as a basis, there IS progress.
Seven points in six games is 1.17 points per game. That's not 08-09 Geno, but it's markedly better than the 1.03 points per game he put up in the 110 combined games he played 2009-10 and last year.
From a strict points per game standpoint, Geno's play is halfway there, up from where it was the last two seasons, but there's still work to do. Give him time.
The team is winning. Neal is rolling. The goaltending has been great. The penalty kill has been perhaps the best this organization has ever seen. Crosby's getting healthy. Malkin has now strung together a few games in a row and is hopefully on his way to getting into a rhythm.
Let's let Malkin's return be a work in progress for a little while longer.
Until next week, dudes…