James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Evgeni Malkin makes a mark

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sidney Crosby’s concussion relapse certainly is a bummer for the NHL (even if it’s not quite as apocalyptic as some media types will tell you). Yet the silver lining of most sports injuries is that someone else will walk through a newly-opened door, so many were wondering who might pick up the high-scoring slack.


Would it be Claude Giroux? Could Phil Kessel carry the torch? Perhaps the Sedin twins would cycle their way to more glories? Maybe Alex Ovechkin might wake from his (relative) hockey hibernation?


Somehow, many of us slept on an answer that seemed too obvious: maybe the other Pittsburgh Penguins center who makes $8.7 million per year would come through. OK, so Evgeni Malkin hasn’t been his usual world-beating self the past two seasons, but his game often rises when he’s the unquestioned captain of the ship.


That’s been especially true after the sad sequel of Sidney’s symptoms. Malkin is currently on a six-game scoring streak in which he’s scored an absurd 15 points (six goals, nine assists). That includes three gorgeous assists against the Chicago Blackhawks last night and a career-high five-point performance against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.


His peripheral stats are pretty sexy in their own right, by the way. Malkin can be prone to lose his temper after a big hit, which isn’t always great for the Penguins, but it provides fantasy owners with the occasional burst of PIMs. He has 22 penalty minutes in 27 games this season. The most delightful bonus comes in his heavy volume of shots, though, as he has 130. That places him second overall in the NHL, with only his wingman James Neal ahead of him with 136 (in seven extra games, by the way).


(One can only imagine the kind of impact Malkin would make in leagues nerdy enough to track a player’s Corsi rating.)


That high shot total is almost as promising as the 39 points that ties him with Giroux, Kessel and Henrik Sedin for the league lead. When I see a staggering volume of shots alongside impressive scoring numbers, I see a beautiful blend of swagger, a healthy brand of selfishness and dominant puck possession. If Malkin can stay healthy – and dare I wonder, if Crosby can’t get healthy – then a second Art Ross Trophy might just be in his future.



One of his leading competitors is on the shelf with a concussion, but apparently it isn’t on the same scale as Crosby’s head injury. Still, the well-sourced rumblings that Claude Giroux might actually play tonight are pretty hard to fathom.


As I mentioned yesterday, I cannot help but shudder at the thought of Giroux getting rushed back into action too soon, especially considering the fact that the Philadelphia Flyers paid dearly for similar decisions in the past. (The most obvious example is Eric Lindros, but Keith Primeau retired because of concussion problems, too.)


Giroux simply said that people will know that he’s back if he’s skating before the game (there’s no morning skate), so consider him a game-time decision. In most leagues, you can probably put him in your lineup without conflicts, but I’d wager that he won’t play.


The Flyers aren’t exactly the most predictable team in the NHL, though, so proceed with caution either way.


Speaking of gambling, how about some digital applause for the folks who rolled the dice on Marian Gaborik? The speedy winger pushed his season points total with 30 points (including 19 goals) as he recorded two tallies and a helper as the Rangers crushed the Devils 4-1. There are still 51 games for him to morph back into the Wile E. Coyote of hockey, but he’s a joy to watch when he isn’t in the trainer’s room. Extra kudos if you got him somewhere in the seventh round or later.

After the jump: two worrisome goalie injuries, quick hits and injury bits.

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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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