The last 2 seasons the Pittsburgh Penguins learned how to live without their captain Sidney Crosby as he battled through multiple concussions, now they have to adapt to playing without Evgeni Malkin who played a major role in Crosby's absence. By many accounts Evgeni Malkin has been the Penguins best player over the last 2 seasons, single handedly carrying the team and putting up enough offence for 2 superstars. He also won the NHL MVP award for for his leadership role during Crosby's absence. At the start of 2013 the Penguins were poised for a big year as both Crosby and Malkin were ready to start off the year healthy, but after a collision in a game Friday against the Florida Panthers Evgeni Malkin has been diagnosed with a concussion.
Anytime the word "concussion" is thrown around with the Penguins, fans and coaches hold their breath and hope for the best. They dealt with Crosby's concussion and "concussion like symptoms" which forced him to miss over 100 games in 2 seasons. Right now the Penguins are hoping that Malkin's concussion won't have the same effect. Concussions are nasty injuries and completely un-predictable, there's no time-table for a return and a player could be better within a few days Brendan Gallagher or their career could be over like Chris Pronger. Good news for Penguins fans is the team knows how to handle concussions thanks to their experiences with Crosby and Kris Letang, so they will be sure that Malkin is 100% before sending him back into game action.
Now that the Penguins are without Evgeni Malkin for the foreseeable future, will they be able to keep up their strong play or will their game taper off with the loss of their MVP?
No matter what way you look at it losing a player such as Malkin is huge for any team. He's currently 18th in points with 21 (4 goals + 17 assists) and is the type of player who makes everyone on the ice better. But if any team is able to handle the loss of a superstar it's the Pittsburgh Penguins who will still have Sidney Crosby and James Neal to turn to.
Here's why the Penguins will survive the regular season without Evgeni Malkin;
1. Sidney Crosby
The Penguins are lucky in the fact that they have arguably 2 of the best players in the NHL, because of that their 2 superstars are able to cover for each other if one is out with an injury. While Crosby was out Malkin was called upon to lead and carry the team, the Russian superstar responded by putting up 109 points and winning the Hart Trophy. Now it's Crosby's turn to answer the bell and prove to everyone who believes that Malkin became the better player during Crosby's absence that Crosby can also elevate his game and lead the Penguins by himself.
Right now Crosby sits 2nd in the league in points with 28 (9 goals, 19 assists) and has points in 13 of 15 Penguins games making him one of the most consistent players this season. Stepping up in Malkin's absence should be no problem for Sid the kid who is used to being the star and carrying his team to victory. It's time for Crosby to step up, lead his team and show the league he is still the most dominat all-around player.
2. James Neal
Aside from Crosby, James Neal will be affected the most while Evgeni Malkin is not playing. Malkin and Neal are arguably the best center/winger duo in the NHL right now and help provide the Penguins with a solid 1- 2 punch as both the first and second lines can score. But with Malkin out look for Neal to jump to the first line with Crosby. Now there is nothing wrong playing on a line with Crosby, but there's no guarantee Neal will have the same chemistry that he had with Malkin- he has 12 goals and 9 of them were assisted by Malkin. Neal's job will be to go to the net and try to get open so he can continue adding to his goal total, and Crosby has to be just as good at setting up goals as Malkin right?
With Neal jumping up on the first line he too will be called upon to play a bigger offencive role alongside Crosby. After putting up 81 points last season he is a dangerous guy in the offencive end and can score big goals when needed. He'll want to prove he can play with Crosby and add his name in the mix for the Penguins MVP race.
3. Power Play
Anytime you have the ability to have Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter on the ice for one of your two power play units you're going to be able to capitalize more times than not. With Malkin out Kunitz will sub into his spot on the power play and his job will be to set up Crosby and Neal. The Penguins have the 3rd best power play in the league (28%) but it will be dealt a serious blow without the playmaking of Malkin, the way he sees the ice is just incredible and unfortunately for the Penguins near irreplaceable. But Neal and Crosby are also gifted on the power play and have combined for 23 power play points, so there is still some serious skill left on the Penguins power play that can easily burn the opposition.
The Penguins are crossing their fingers hoping that Evgeni Malkin's concussion isn't too severe and will be back by the end of the regular season, but no matter how severe it is they will make sure to take their time with Malkin to make sure he's fully healed up. Brandon Sutter will likely center the 2nd line and will need to step his game up along with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who hasn't been all that spectacular to start off the year. The Penguins have built a team that can compete and beat any team in the East regardless of whether they have both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin or just one. They will be fine in the Eastern Conference, but when playoffs roll around they may be in some trouble without Evgeni Malkin. Right now it's all about Sidney Crosby stepping his game up and carrying the Penguins like Malkin did when he was injured.