Defense will get a test from Pittsburgh
McClatchy News Services
PITTSBURGH — The Wild might be the best defensive team in the NHL, but they has yet to face a test anything close to tonight’s: Shut down Evgeni Malkin and the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sure, the Penguins still deploy some kid named Sidney Crosby, but no NHL player has been as hot the past four weeks as Malkin, the Penguins’ 22-year-old Russian superstar.
One year after finishing second in the NHL with 106 points and helping lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals, Malkin, nicknamed "Geno," leads the league with 23 assists, 30 points, 14 points on the power play and 20 points at home.
To put that in perspective, the Wild’s Mikko Koivu, who at one time stood atop the NHL in assists and points, has leveled off with a team-leading 13 assists and 15 points.
Malkin carries a 13-game assist and point streak into tonight’s game. Since 1998, the only player to record an assist streak of more than 13 games was Jaromir Jagr (16 games in 2000-01). While his English has improved, Malkin is not yet comfortable doing phone interviews, so the Star Tribune couldn’t talk to him for this story.
"Malkin scored (47) goals last year, but I think he has the ability to score 55, 60 goals like (Alex) Ovechkin," said NBC and Versus color analyst Ed Olczyk. "He’s a finisher, but as a center, he loves to distribute the puck and use guys around him. It’s hard to find a more complete player when it comes to his ability to do both things.
"If I had to pick, I’d probably say just by a hair, he’s a better distributor than scorer, but that’s like, ‘What side of the bed do you wake up on?’ "