Originally posted on Bleed Black & Gold  |  Last updated 2/13/12

Evgeni Malkin has shown glimpses of what he was truly capable of since he was drafted in 2004 but what we are witnessing on the Penguins most current run over the last few weeks is nothing short of remarkable.  In the last 14 games the Penguin Center put up 15 G, 9 A and a +10 rating while leading the Penguins to a 11-2-1 record.  The surge has moved the Penguins into a comfortable spot in the playoff picture (tied for 4th with Philly) just weeks after the Pens were on the outside looking in at the 9th spot.

While the team as a whole needs to be credited with the turnaround after losing Crosby again with concussion like symptoms, Malkin has stood out as not only the team leader but as hands down the best player in the NHL.  Normally I stay conservative in making such statements because there is always room for argument with these sort of discussions, but in the last month Malkin has made the opposition his own personal play things.  He is virtually unstoppable.

Courtesy of AP writer Will Graves’ recap of Sunday’s win against the red hot lightning,  Kris Letang had this to say of Malkin.  “It looks like he did in 2009 maybe when (Sidney Crosby) went down and he kind of took over, that was kind of unbelievable…but his game is better than it was two years ago. I think he’s playing great hockey, and this is the first time I’ve seen him being that dominant.”

Anytime you have your  potential Norris Trophy defenseman in awe of your dominance, you know you are doing something right.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Just about every team in the NHL is scratching their heads on how to stop Malkin these days.

Again, courtesy of Will Graves, “Boucher just shrugged his shoulders when asked how to stop Malkin.  “Well, we certainly didn’t have the answer, that’s for sure, so you have to ask somebody else (other) than me,” he said.”

It has to be a frustrating thing to have one player come out and make that big of an impact on a game, and while you would expect teams to come up with a strategy to defend Malkin I can’t help but to wonder now if that is even possible.  He’s playing with such a  high level of confidence that I’m not so sure that there is anything teams can do to stop him.  You hear stories of athletes who are in the zone and the hoop becomes bigger in basketball, the net bigger in hockey and so on and so forth, so by that logic at this point for Malkin, the net has to be roughly the size of the entrance to the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

In addition to climbing up the standings, this is also helping the Pens prepare for the playoffs.  Crosby still has no timetable for his return, but with Malkin playing like this, Sid can take the time he needs and prep for a potential playoff comeback.  Nobody is sure whether or not that will actually happen with all the mystery behind Sid’s injury, but imagine the possibilities with Malkin being your go to guy and Sid just having to play a support role until he is 100% game ready again.  It will be important not to lean too much on Crosby when he returns to make sure he has completely recovered from his head and neck injuries so having Malkin playing like this could be huge after Sid’s return.  Oh, and a fun fact for all you stat geeks out there, according to the Penguins Radio Network twitter page last week, in his career Evgeni Malkin has played 82 games without Sidney Crosby in the lineup, or what amounts to a full season of games.  His numbers: 49 goals, 112 points.

While most fans can’t help but to imagine what it will be like when the dynamic duo is finally able to play together again, it is important though for the Penguins to concentrate on the here and now.  At this point, playoff seeding doesn’t appear to be a big issue.  As things lie at the moment anything other than a division win wouldn’t really benefit the Penguins very much unless they can draw the 6 seed against whoever the Southeast division sends as their champ in the 3 seed.  But for the Penguins to win the Atlantic (which at this point I wouldn’t put it beyond them) they need to keep making up ground on the Rangers who have shown no signs of slowing down as they continue to lead the Eastern Conference in the standings.

The Pens prep this week for a home game against the Ducks on Wednesday and then hit the road for a big matchup in Philly with the Flyers on Saturday on their way to Buffalo Sunday.  Its important for the Penguins to finish up February strong if they want to put pressure on the Rangers down the stretch, and with the way Malkin has been playing as of late, I wouldn’t expect anything less.

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