Evgeni Malkin is a superstar by any definition. It’s hard to quantify in measurable terms what he means to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Yet when he got injured March 11, the team responded well with a massive winning streak down the stretch. They were playing so well it had some (mostly non team fans) questioning whether to even dress him once healthy.
In his first game back he was invisible, the team looked horrendous, and they lost. Badly. The questions were asked again.
True to form, Malkin responded with 6 points in the next three, the Pens won them all, and took the series basically without a fight. Proved everyone wrong, didn’t he? He sure did, but let’s take a look at HOW.
I think this may have more to do with Mike Sullivan than most people would accept. After his game one return, I tweeted this:
I took some flack for that tweet, but
it was obvious to me Malkin was trying to do too much all at once, and he was taking too much away from everyone else in the process. The Pens are, and should be, a four line team. It’s why they won without Malkin, and it’s why they’re better with him. He’s much more effective the less he plays. Here’s the statistical evidence.
I looked back from January 1st to present day. In that time, Malkin has dressed in 24 total games, regular season and playoffs. He’s scored 11 goals (G) and 20 assists (A) for 1.29 points per game (PPG). He was held scoreless 7 times (0.29%). The team record was 15-6-0-3, with a 3.5 goals for per game average (GFPG), and a goals against per game average of 2.16 (GAPG). Not too shabby at all.
Makes sense, right? Malkin automatically equals awesome, doesn’t he? But Based on Evgeni Malkin’s ice time and shift length, here’s the breakdown of his personal success, and how it affects the success of the team.
7 times out of 24 games, Malkin has gotten between 19-20 minutes total ice time. In those games, he’s got 1.28 PPG and was held scoreless once (0.142%). The team went 5-2 (0.714%), scored 3.5 GFPG and gave up 2.7 GAPG. Those are pretty solid personal stats, and the team had success.
But consider that 11 times his ice time was reduced to between 15-19 minutes. He increased to 1.45 PPG, and was held scoreless just twice, lowering to .125%. Even more, the team went 10-1, jumping from a .714 win % to a whopping .909. The team also had a modest increase to 3.9 GFPG, and a dramatic improvement down to 1.18 GAPG, compared to 2.7. The verdict is in: less of Malkin is more.
Still not convinced? What would happen if Malkin played even less than 15 minutes? Surely he would disappear. Would you take that if you were him? As a matter of fact, it’s happened 4 times since March 11, or 4 out of his last 5 games. In that stretch, with less than 15 minutes of ice time, Malkin has put up a staggering 2.0 PPG! Keep in mind that the ONLY time in the last 5 games he’s played more than 15:00 was that disastrous playoff return. He played 19:29 that game. Remember, this is when I tweeted a call for a decrease in 71’s ice time.
What happened? In his big 4 point statement game, leading the team to a 5-0 trouncing of the Rangers, Evgeni Malkin had just 12:56 of ice time. He averaged less than :36 seconds a shift. Take some time and let that sink in. In the 4 games of 15 minutes or less, he was held scoreless ZERO times, and the team went 4-0, or 100%. The Pens soared to 4.25 GFPG, and held opponents to just 1.5.
I think the point is already proven. Malkin needs to be used less to be an effective weapon for both the good of himself and the good of the team. But let’s really drive it home now. There have been 6 games since the new year where Geno’s played more than 20:00. In those 6 games, he had 1.0 PPG, or exactly HALF of the points he got playing less than 15 minutes. He was also held scoreless 3 out of 6 times, or 50% of those games. That’s far more often even than when he plays just one minute less. That’s just him personally. Let’s look at the team.
Think about how amazing the Pens have been as a team since Sully took over. Remember they are 15-6-3 with Malkin since January 1. But when he played 20:00 or more, the team was a jaw dropping 1-2-0-3, for a winning percentage of just 0.167. Are you kidding me? They also only scored 2.6 goals for per game, and gave up 4.16 per game, or exactly TWO more goals per game than their average over that stretch.
A couple more nails in the coffin just for good measure are that of the 6 games Malkin played more than 20 minutes creating the worst personal and team stats, he also had an average shift length of greater than 50 seconds 3 times, and averaged :49, :48, and :46 in the other 3. Never under :45 seconds. The Penguins as a team have shut out the opposition 4 times with Geno dressing, and three of those occurred when he played 17 minutes or less. The other one he played less than 19 minutes.
So yes, I stand by my tweet. The defence rests.