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Successful 2019-20 season for Malkin depends on defense deployment

August 1, 2019, 9:11 AM ET [98 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
A huge part of the Penguins success next season is going to rely on Evgeni Malkin and his production. Last year player usage killed him. He turned 33 yesterday, but he is still a great player and can be an impact player. When you are an all-time great the aging curve isn’t as harsh. It will hit hard eventually, but I’d be floored if that year was 2019-20.

Today I am going to use a new tool from Micah Blake McCurdy. It is essentially a with or without you tool that takes into consideration zone starts and whether the team is trailing or leading (score effects).

I have outlined many times that Jack Johnson is a horrifically negative influence on the players he is on the ice with. This tool is the latest in the evidence to prove that hypothesis as true, especially so in Malkin’s case.

Here is what happens when you look up Malkin with Johnson last year on the offensive side of things

The threat is +4% This shows a minimal ability to be above average. Considering we are talking about Evgeni Malkin that number is low.

Defensively things aren’t great

The +14% isn’t a good number when talking about the defensive side of things. You want to be negative. Malkin isn’t going to be confused as a defensive center, but he’s not incompetent either. This number is unacceptably high.

Here is Malkin away from Jack Johnson on the offensive side of things

Back to a respectable +13%

I knew Malkin’s defensive numbers would improve when he left Johnson, but I did not expect this

Wow, a -6%? That isn’t too shabby for a player that hasn’t been complimented for his defensive play in a while. This is a huge improvement from playing with Jack Johnson.

So if the goal is to get Malkin away from Jack Johnson what can the Penguins do? Brian Dumoulin is off the table because Crosby is going to hog the time with that pairing. This leaves Marcus Pettersson as the only other option. What does Malkin with Pettersson look like?

Damn. That is good. To be at +36% is great. It is only a 229 minute sample, but it is something to build off of. To put this into perspective a Crosby and Letang duo comes in at +30%. Here is how Malkin and Pettersson looked defensively

It keeps getting better.

There is NO EXCUSE to not explore the Malkin and Pettersson combo and see if it is legitimately good. There is NO EXCUSE to keep feeding Malkin minutes with Jack Johnson. The numbers are clear. Crosby can keep his steady helping of Dumoulin-Letang which is a known and great commodity. The Penguins should be looking at a Pettersson-Schultz pairing tied to the Malkin line.

Yeah, the bottom pairing of Johnson-Gudbranson will probably be really bad. That’s the reality of having those players. What you can’t do is crush Malkin’s offensive value for a second consecutive season because of poor deployment. However bad the Johnson-Gudbranson pairing is won’t outweigh the good of getting Malkin back on track.

Playing Malkin with Johnson and not Pettersson is coaching malpractice. Hopefully we don’t see it next year.

Thanks for reading!
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