Still Worried About Evgeni Malkin Affecting Pittsburgh Penguins' Chemistry?

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The narrative all week long has been how Evgeni Malkin’s impending return was going to mess with the Pittsburgh Penguins' team chemistry. They had won ten in a row before losing to the Dallas Stars on Saturday afternoon.  Surely, adding one of the organization’s greatest players in history was going to negatively impact the Pens chemistry, right? What a silly narrative.

Instead, Malkin had the last laugh in a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. With two goals and an assist on Jeff Carter’s empty net goal late in the third period, Malkin’s three points earned him the game’s number one star.  He looked as crisp a skater as he has in a long time after basically skating around on one leg in the playoff series last season. His shot certainly hasn’t diminished in any way. He blasted a shot from the point on the power play, scoring his first goal since May of 2021.

Miss the goal? Here it is. Come for the sensational shot. Stay for Sidney Crosby’s ridiculous vertical to avoid blocking the shot or taking it to the midsection.

That’s a 35-year old superstar taking a massive slap shot and proving to his detractors that he does, in fact, still have a lot of gas left in the tank.  As if that wasn’t enough, Malkin took a beautiful slap pass from John Marino and deflected it on goal. The puck deflected off of Ducks goalie Anthony Stolarz’s pad and into the net.  That’s two goals in his season debut. 

Neither one was accidental either. It’s clear that Geno still has his game and that he won’t be negatively impacting the Pens chemistry anytime soon.  After the game, Malkin did admit that he felt a bit winded physically but knows that with time and game action, he will progressively begin to get his cardio back up.  

An interesting development did come about concerning Malkin’s line mates. Everyone knew Malkin would be reunited with winger Kasperi Kapanen upon his return. Kapanen’s best hockey as a Penguin has come with Malkin as his center. They played really well last season before Malkin’s injury close to the playoffs.  The interesting development was Carter playing on Malkin's wing.

Carter has been the Pens’ number two center all season prior to Malkin’s return. The thought was that Carter would slide into the third center role with Geno back. However, Carter flanked Malkin on the wing in this game but took most of the face offs and took away some of Malkin’s defensive responsibilities.

It’s not often Mike Sullivan makes the wrong move and this was no exception. As usual, Sully knows best, and did his best to ease Malkin back into game action.

With Jason Zucker still out due to injury and Danton Heinen and Zach Aston-Reese landing on the COVID list yesterday afternoon, the head coach had to make some adjustments. I’d think that Carter and Malkin may stay together for a few more games until Malkin gets all of his responsibilities back, but this obviously was an effective line in this game.

The ideal lineup would see Carter adding depth to the third line and giving the Penguins three lines similar to what they rolled out when they won their Stanley Cups. Obviously with the Pens not being at full strength, and the playoffs still a few months away, experimentation is never a bad thing.

This entire love fest for Malkin doesn’t even mention how good Tristan Jarry was in this contest yet again. While Jarry didn’t face a lot of shots early in the game, those he did make were on some grade-A Ducks opportunities. Jarry continued making these saves throughout the night and was spectacular in a performance that deserves mention even though he won’t be the main story following this game.

Overall though, good for Geno. He quieted a lot of doubters on Tuesday night with an awesome performance in his first game in almost eight months. He should only get stronger over the next few weeks and the same goes for the Penguins.

The NHL has been put on notice.