Six straight wins, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are back in the race for the Eastern Conference title. Of course, they still have some ground to make up on the Bruins and Rangers, but this team, riddled with injuries, looks scary as the offence is clicking on all cylinders. While you would expect Evgeni Malkin to be a part of that offensive outburst, the fact that Malkin is looking like the second coming of #66 shows that he can not only lead this Penguins team through adversity, but that he is arguably the best player in the NHL right now.
Today's game against the Washington Capitals was a little weird as the two teams have struggled thus far. The Capitals can't seem to get on the same page as their stars appear to be going through the motions most nights while the Penguins have dealt with injuries to a vast number of their stars - Crosby, Staal, Letang, and Neal. But with the Capitals seeing some life in Ovechkin and the Penguins getting their offensive dynamo in Malkin going, this game turned out to be a great Sunday afternoon game.
"I have great confidence now, you know?" Malkin told the Associated Press. "You win six games, I think everyone has great confidence now. I just am enjoying the game, you know? And having fun."
Malkin not only leads the league in scoring, but his six games with goals is the longest streak in the NHL thus far this season. His goal 1:31 into overtime gave Pittsburgh the 4-3 win over Washington, and his two assists pushed him to 58 points on the season.
But it's just how Malkin has taken over games lately that is showing why he is a world-class talent. His natural hat trick in the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, including his scrum with Vincent Lecavalier, showed that he can impose his will on a game and mix in a little nastiness as well. His goal on Monday against the Canadiens tied the game, and Malkin showed a little dazzle in the shootout with his winner. In short, Malkin has returned to the form that allowed him to capture the Conn Smythe Trophyin 2009.
Of course, having your star players performing at their best will turn any team's fortunes to the positive, but Malkin, it seems, is literally willing his team to win. The game against the Lightning looked lost until Malkin imposed himself on the game. Take a look at the jump that Malkin has in Tampa Bay.
It's clear that as Malkin goes, so do the Penguins. James Neal and Chris Kunitz are benefiting from Malkin's immense skill, and it's clear that Malkin is on a different level than most of the NHL at this point in the season. While there will be peaks and valleys still to come in Malkin's career, there's no doubt that the Hart Trophy discussion at this point in this season has to involve Evgeni Malkin.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!