Where in the world is Evgeni Malkin?
The Pittsburgh Penguins would probably tell you they're not pointing fingers, but at least some of the blame for their current predicament has to be directed toward Evgeni Malkin.
To call Pittsburgh's top regular-season scorer a non-factor so far in the Stanley Cup final may be generous. Malkin's penalty minutes (four) easily exceed his number of shots on goal (one), and his minus-3 rating reflects the defensive contribution he made as the Penguins were manhandled by a combined 7-0 in the opening two games in Detroit.
Malkin often found himself bothered by Niklas Kronwall and the other bone rattlers on the Red Wings' defence corps, something the Russian acknowledged in his halting English before a 3-0 loss in Game 2.
"Detroit have a good defenceman. Kronwall," Malkin said. "I need to be more physical play. Have to pressure defenceman. Hit. Yeah, hit."
In fairness to the 21-year-old centre, it's not like his teammates have done much of consequence, either. But the disappearing act by the man they call Geno, who finished second in the NHL with 106 regular-season points before registering 17 in his first 10 playoff games, has been such that perhaps his most conspicuous moment of the Cup final is a careless display of puckhandling in Game 1.
With Detroit clinging to a 1-0 lead early in the third period, Red Wings checking specialist Kris Draper barrelled in on Malkin in front of the Pittsburgh net. The flat-footed Penguin sidestepped a potentially percussive hit, ceding the puck to Mikael Samuelsson, who turned around and beat Marc-André Fleury for a crucial second goal en route to a 4-0 Detroit win.
Mercifully, Game 2 didn't feature such an obvious defensive gaffe for Malkin, but his stats looked worse — he was on the ice for two of Detroit's three goals and failed to record a shot on net.
Geno pairing up with Sid?
Penguins coach Michel Therrien tried his best to defend Malkin afterwards, making a vague accusation about possible underhanded defensive tactics by the Red Wings, who held Pittsburgh to 41 shots over the first two games.
"It's really tough to generate offence against that team. They're good on obstruction," Therrien said. "It's going to be tough to generate any type of offence, if the rules remain the same."
While Malkin's struggles have come into sharper focus under the bright lights of the Cup final, the Russian's scoring slump dates back to the Penguins' five-game victory over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference final. Since tallying twice in a 4-2 Game 1 win, Malkin has but one goal in the ensuing six contests. He's also a minus-4 over that span.
"I thought his intention was there [in Game 2 against Detroit]," said Therrien, who engaged in a heart-to-heart with Malkin prior to the contest. "We've got to keep supporting him and eventually, players like this, usually they find ways."
Perhaps not trusting completely in Malkin's ability to do that, Therrien alluded on Tuesday to some possible line-shuffling as the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Wednesday's critical Game 3 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET).
Though he was predictably coy, the coach suggested he may play Malkin on a line with fellow star centre Sidney Crosby, a combination Pittsburgh tried before Crosby went down with an ankle injury before the all-star break.
"We would do it at times," Therrien said. "We do it at times."