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January 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday in the third period of the Penguins’ dramatic 4-3 overtime defeat of the Washington Capitals, Evgeni Malkin made the kind of play that prompts Penguins fans to admit that Sidney Crosby isn’t the best player in hockey, and that he isn’t even the best player on his own team. The Capitals, up by a goal, had taken it upon themselves to clam up the neutral zone with three skaters, leaving a fourth hovering around the Penguins’ blue line for what barely qualified as a forecheck. This is the kind of “play not to lose” strategy that turns fans catatonic with anger and makes the game less exciting than C-Span. 

With no other option to gain the offensive zone, Geno opted to wind it up in his own end, deal a quick give-and-go by his own blue line which opened up the smallest gap in the Capitals’ trap, and cut into enemy territory. At worst he gets the puck deep, at best he gets a bounce to go his way and a scoring chance is created. 

The puck ended up deep in the Caps’ zone along the corner boards and forced two Capitals to chase after it. Geno fought off both defenders and dealt a pass to the right circle. James Neal put it past Michal Neuvirth before the Caps netminder even knew Geno had passed the puck. 

Yesterday’s game was one that the Pens used to lose more often than not. Not just this season but in years past. But this is what Evgeni Malkin does now. He makes sure his team doesn’t lose games that they can win. This was Sidney Crosby’s role until he suffered his concussion, and the Pens needed someone to step up and take that baton. Geno has done it. It is as though he’s once again realized that he is talented enough to not only play hockey at an incredibly high level, but that he can flat out OWN a game when he wants to. Lemieux did this. Gretzky did this. Ovechkin used to know how to hone his abilities like this. In my mind, this is what separates really good players from great players. Here’s hoping it continues. 

 

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