While Sidney Crosby continues to turn heads with his brilliant play, the most talented player in the league may not even be his own team’s Most Valuable Player. The incredible run that the Pittsburgh Penguins have made through the 2008 postseason may not have even had a chance to get off the ground if it had not been for the Pens other superstar, Evgeni Malkin. In the heart of the 2007-08 campaign, Pittsburgh’s young captain (and scoring leader at the time) was sidelined with a high ankle sprain which kept him out of nearly 30 contests. While many teams would have been undeniably derailed by the loss of the world`s most talented young hockey player, the Penguins continued tearing through opponent, almost as if Sid the Kid had never been on the roster. Malkin was the driving force behind this run, piling up 18 goals and 45 points in the games Crosby missed, and finishing the season second in scoring to his countryman, Alexander Ovechkin.
s success in the regular season did not end with Crosbys return to the lineup. Rather, Geno has kept his tremendous scoring pace up well into the late rounds of the NHL playoffs. After the Penguins defeat of the Flyers, Crosby and Malkin were at the top of the league in postseason scoring. Malkin has also proven his mettle in clutch situations while demonstrating not only a tremendous talent for putting the puck in the net but also the tenacity and physical toughness which is required to fully excel in the NHL.
No greater example of this ability can be found than Malkin`s shorthanded goal in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. After an offensive rush which Flyers goaltender Martin Biron turned aside, Malkin was caught hunting for the puck at the side of the net by Flyers star Mike Richards, who wasted no time in leveling No. 71 with a bone-jarring hit that knocked him from the mouth of the goal to the end boards. While the Flyers quickly turned up-ice, the Pens defense caused a turnover at their defensive blueline. Malkin had already skated back onsides and received a breakaway pass from Sergei Gonchar.
While the fans at Mellon Arena eagerly waited to see what fancy move Malkin would pull on the overmatched goalie in his sights, he instead skated at an agonizingly slow pace in on goal until he was about fifteen feet from the crease. Most players would have picked their spot, or tried to fake the goalie out of position. Instead, Malkin (owner of one of the hardest shots in the league) took out his vengeance for the Richards hit by blasting the puck by a defenseless Biron. Not only did the goal give the Pens a 4-2 lead in the game, it set the tone for the rest of the series, telling a tough Philly team known for battering its opponents that this young group of Penguins was not just a highlight reel team with fancy passing and quick hands. Malkin’s blast was more than just a goal. If anything, it was a message from a young man who knows his role on a team loaded with talent.
This is the gift that Penguins fans have been given. Not only do they have the player who saved the NHL at the ripe old age of 18, but the individual who saved their season is more than happy to let his captain shoulder the spotlight. The NHL MVP award goes to the individual who does the most for his team. This season, in Pittsburgh, Malkin has more than made his case for this award.