Evgeni Malkin is back and yes he should be on the power play
It feels like it has been forever since Evgeni Malkin has suited up for the Penguins. The last time it happened was on March 16th. This looks to be changing tonight
This is great news. Malkin needs some action to get acclimated to game speeds again. Jumping right into the playoffs as a skilled player in a league where the time and space gets smaller due to officiating ignoring regular season penalties isn't an easy task.
Going with Malkin and Kapanen is a no-brainer. Putting Zucker there? Not so much. I'm not in love with it. We have a good sample of Zucker and Malkin not exactly setting the world on fire. I would almost rather keep Zucker with Carter and McCann and playing Radim Zohorna on Malkin's left wing than force feed the Zucker/Malkin duo again. This is why I wanted to give Zohorna a bigger sample to learn more about him. Given his limited usage this isn't on the table. Even taking McCann away from Carter seems more palatable than putting Zucker back there. One thing that definitely won't happen is putting Zucker with Crosby. We know those two did good things together, but there is a zero percent chance of breaking up the top line which has been a buzz saw.
The hope here is that both Malkin and Zucker started slow this year and will be in better form. Regardless, of the line combos it isn't ideal to have Malkin miss that much time and only have a few games to get into the swing of things for the playoffs.
This next bit of information is going to ruffle some feathers
Jared McCann leads the Penguins with seven power play goals. He has been very good. He's also not Evgeni Malkin. If the Penguins are going to make a deep run Malkin is going to be a huge part of it and a huge part of that will be him performing on the PP. He needs reps to do so. He needs to play on the top power play. I don't want to hear about a "second unit" led by Malkin. We all know there is no such thing as two equal power play units. The second unit will always get the scraps.
I want to acknowledge right up front I am aware the power play during Malkin's injury was a tremendous 27.6%. I believe the power play from January to March 16th (when Malkin was injured) was only ~17.6% so there is a clear difference.
I do want to provide some context. All eight games against the Devils happened when Malkin was out injured. New Jersey is 31st in the league with their PK percentage. They only kill off penalties 70.4% of the time. This is the worst percentage of the salary cap era (2005-now). Chicago in 2018-19 is closest to this year's Devils at 72.7%.
The Penguins were 16 for 58 overall without Malkin on the power play. They went 7 for 15 against the Devils. The non-Devils power play numbers were 9 for 43 (20.9%). Still good, but nowhere close to the damage done against New Jersey.
My overall point is I think the numbers against the Devils have given people a higher perception of the Malkin-less power play than perhaps the reality. Putting Malkin back on the power play now that he is healthy is not a crime and it is not like breaking up the 1995-96 Penguins power play. In the month leading up to the Malkin injury the Penguins power play was 10 for 43 (23.2%). Let's not act like the power play was inept like it was to start the season.
Evgeni Malkin is on my top power play. Whether or not Jared McCann should be the guy being bumped is an entirely different conversation... he's been good in his role.
Not great. Contract aside Matheson had been playing some of his best hockey of the season recently. He is one of the six best defenders on the team. This isn't good. He was looking like he was going to play the Trevor Daley role heading into the playoffs (the 2015-16 version not the 2016-17 one). I can only assume there is a broken bone of some kind to keep him out of the lineup. Good chance we see him return with a full cage.
Brandon Tanev did skate today in a full participants jersey. It doesn't look like he will draw into the lineup, but it appears around the corner so while the Matheson news is a downer, the Tanev news is trending in a positive direction.
Flyers and Penguins. Evgeni Malkin back. A lot to like.
Thanks for reading!