Evgeni Malkin Just As Good As Sidney Crosby This Season

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PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 20: Pittsburgh Penguins Center Sidney Crosby (87) and Pittsburgh Penguins Center Evgeni Malkin (71) take the ice before the first period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers on December 20, 2016, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. The Penguins defeated the Rangers 7-2. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby has arguably been the most talked about player in the NHL this season as he’s scored 24 goals in 29 games but Evgeni Malkin is also having one of the best seasons of his career, right there with Sid in terms of NHL scoring actually one point ahead of Crosby with 39 (second to Connor McDavid), playing six more games.

Evgeni Malkin Just As Good As Sidney Crosby This Season

The old narrative about Malkin the past few seasons has been that he gets hurt too much or he’s lazy and doesn’t care but that’s far from the truth. Malkin has been just as big of a key to the Penguins success this season as Crosby has even though he started out the season taking way too many penalties. That shows that he sometimes cares maybe a little too much. Let’s take a look at a couple reasons as to why Malkin has been so good this season and why this could be one of his best statistical seasons of his career.

Health

This is definitely the biggest but most obvious reason as to why Malkin has been so impressive this season. Ever since he scored 50 goals and topped over 100 points in the 2011-2012 season, he hasn’t played a fully healthy season which has costed him numerous goals and points. He hasn’t even played a 70 game season since his 50 goal season.

The elbow injury from last year looks to be fully healed and it’s showing when he keeps dishing out beautiful passes and sniping rockets. He has 39 points in 35 games this year which puts him on pace to get over 90 points which would be the first time he’s done that since his MVP season in 2011-2012 where he paced the league with 50 goals and 109 points. He’s three points behind the other kid in EdmontonĀ for the scoring lead.

At home, Malkin leads the NHL with 29 points, 22 of those coming as assists. “Geno” has also been big on the power play this season for the Penguins as they rank 7th in the NHL in terms of success percentage, keyed by Malkin’s contribution of 13 man advantage points to tie for the team lead. It’s nothing new, as the 30-year old is 4th among all skaters since the start of his MVP season in terms of power play points. However, unlike in previous seasons (he’s failed to play in at least 70 contests the past three years), if Malkin can stay healthy for the entire year, there’s no doubt he will have a very good chance to win the scoring title and potentially get votes for League MVP.

Linemates

Malkin has had a couple different linemates on his right wing throughout the season but Chris Kunitz has been a constant on his left wing and its paid dividends for Malkin to produce points. Some have criticized Kunitz as a waste of a roster spot evidenced by his finish to the 2014-15 season where he scored three goals in the final 34 games and start to this season with just two goals. However, he’s still able to drive posession, as since that 2014-15 season, he ranks 12th among all NHL skaters in terms of relative team shot attempts when the player is on the ice versus when he is not with a +10.9 rating. Kunitz doesn’t need the puck all the time which is perfect for Malkin since he loves playing with the puck. They’re able to work well with each other every game as they have good shifts in the offensive zone.

On Malkin’s right wing, he’s played with Phil Kessel, Bryan Rust, and right now Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist usually plays with Crosby but head coach Mike Sullivan decided to flip Rust and Hornqvist to get more speed on the top line. Hornqvist and Malkin play quite well together and that’s evidenced by Hornqvist have a Corsi-for percentage of 57.7% in a little over 460 minutes of play. They also combined for a great play the other night (December 23rd) against the Devils as Malkin had a great pass to Hornqvist on this goal:

It’s great for the sport to see Evgeni Malkin performing this way and there’s no doubt he can be in a three player race with Crosby and McDavid to win the Hart trophy for NHL MVP if he keeps this type of production up through the rest of the season.

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