Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
The Penguins opened their 2018 postseason in the most Penguins-way possible: With an offensive barrage.
Pittsburgh rolled rival Philadelphia Flyers on April 11, producing a 7-0 final score more evocative of a low-scoring football game than a playoff hockey match.
During the wild night at PPG Paints Arena, Sidney Crosby, to the surprise of absolutely no one, was the guy garnering all of the attention.
In addition to a hat trick, Crosby delivered a second period goal that — even by his standards — was genuinely impressive.
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin sent a slap shot toward the net, only for Crosby to change its course via a backhanded
deflection and place it in the back of the net.
The goal stunned everyone watching, both fans and players. It was the sort of play that can only be given justice through multiple video replays.
Hiding in plain sight was another generational star who made a spectacular play earlier in the game, however, in Evgeni Malkin.
Until Crosby’s redirection, Malkin’s first period goal had been the play of the evening.
Upon exiting the penalty box following a two-minute minor, Malkin grabbed the puck, sped past multiple Philadelphia defensemen and backhanded a shot past goalie Brian Elliott into the corner of the net.
It was just one of the many awe-inspiring goals Malkin has had in his 13-year career.
The Russian forward, who Pittsburgh fans have affectionately come to know as “Geno,” accompanies Crosby as one of the biggest reasons behind the Penguins’ triumphs.
Yet, thanks to the wondrous talent of Crosby, Malkin often takes a backseat.
Crosby is, as he has been since he arrived in Pittsburgh as a teenager, the face of the National Hockey League.
On the ice, he is a savant with the puck on his blade, the sort of transcendent talent that transforms the entire sport with his play. Off it, his community outreach efforts and general graciousness have made him one of the most respected professional athletes worldwide.
So, it makes sense that Malkin has a hard time stealing the spotlight away from Crosby.
Take, for example, Game 1 of the current first-round series with the Flyers. Had it not been for Crosby’s incredible redirection later in the game, Malkin’s goal would have been regarded as the highlight of the night.
Those two goals epitomized a common theme seen throughout Crosby and Malkin’s careers together — Crosby steals the show, while Malkin typically hangs in the background.
Crosby is the Captain, Malkin an Alternate. Crosby is Batman, Malkin is Robin. Both are great, but Crosby is ostensibly better, or at least that’s the commonly held perception.
Malkin is to Crosby what Scottie Pippen was to Michael Jordan, what Mark Messier was to Wayne Gretzky. Much like Pippen and Messier, Malkin is a Hall of Fame talent who is often overlooked simply because he plays alongside arguably one the best players of all time.
It isn’t that Malkin isn’t considered a great player. He just receives less praise than he would if he weren’t playing with Crosby, one of the most significant players in hockey history.
In 2017, for example, while Crosby was (obviously) picked as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players, Malkin was excluded. Much of Pittsburgh was up in arms about Malkin’s exclusion, and it’s more than fair to wonder if Malkin would have been among those selected if he didn’t play alongside someone as great as Crosby.
To be fair, Malkin seems perfectly content with his role.
Even so, he is undoubtedly deserving of more recognition than he receives.
For as much acclaim as Crosby accumulates, Malkin has been every bit as good, especially in the postseason.
The night of the Pens’ Game 3 win over Philadelphia, sports writer Rob Rossi tweeted an interesting stat that truly hammers home that notion: If you discounted all of Malkin’s playoff goals, he would still be just one of eight current players with 100 postseason points.
Malkin’s 61 goals and 101 assists in the playoffs are the sort of figures many NHL players can only dream about posting over the course of their entire career.
He won a Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009, and one could argue he deserved to win another for his play in the Penguins’ most recent Stanley Cup run last year.
His playoff points per game average is higher than that of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Henrik Zetterberg, each of whom are recent fellow Conn Smythe-winning forwards.
Kane and Toews were both listed on the NHL’s Top 100 player list, as well.
Alas, as has been the case since Crosby arrived in Pittsburgh 13 years ago, Malkin has been overshadowed by his teammate.
Crosby has more points, a higher points per game average and two Conn Smythes to Malkin’s one.
Those are just a few examples of how, for everything Malkin has done, Crosby has been at least slightly better at. It’s a reality he has faced ever since the two began playing together in 2006.
Even when Malkin was drafted second overall in 2004, he was a relative afterthought. Fans and pundits alike were enamored with Alexander Ovechkin, who the Washington Capitals selected with the first pick. Being that the Penguins missed out on Ovechkin, Malkin was initially viewed as consolation to Ovi.
Yet, here we are, 14 years later, and Malkin has won three Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh. Ovechkin, despite being among the game’s top players, has none.
As long as the Penguins are still in the hunt for the Cup, the praise for Crosby will continue, and rightfully so. He is, after all, one of the very best the hockey world has ever seen.
But so is Malkin. To go with three Cups and a Conn Smythe, he has an award collection that rivals that of Crosby and other historic greats. His trophy case also includes a Hart Memorial Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Calder Memorial Trophy and two Art Ross Trophies.
Has Malkin’s success resulted in part from the fact he plays with Crosby? Of course.
The same goes for Crosby, though, who almost certainly wouldn’t have achieved everything that he’s managed to without Malkin.
It’s a powerful mutual relationship that has brought the Penguins franchise from the brink of bankruptcy to the ranks of the NHL’s best organizations.
In certain stints during their time together that saw Crosby sidelined, Malkin has stepped up and acted as an effective No. 1 option for the Penguins.
As Pittsburgh eyes another Stanley Cup, Crosby will inevitably be the center of attention. Even so, as Malkin will not receive quite the same amount of attention as No. 87, he will be equally as crucial to any hopes of three-peating as Cup champions that the Penguins may have.