Evgeni Malkin does not play against the penguins on Wednesday in the second round against the capitals. Neither will be the fast winger and penalty taker Carl Hagelin. But Malkin's injury is the most significant development for Pittsburgh and Washington.
The penguins will not be specific about injuries during the playoffs. Malkin traveled with the team to Washington, as well as Philadelphia for Game 6 in the first round, when he did not play. It is widely believed that he was injured when he went to ice in this game in Game 5:
Whatever Malkin's serious about, he would play if it was not. But there is good news, such as the Penguin's morning mop before Game 1
– Pens Inside Scoop April 26, 2018
The Penguins have played 163 playoff games since Malkin's 2007 rookie season , Malkin has beaten 154 of them, and seven of the nine he missed were when he was off in 2011 with a grisly knee injury for the season.
Malkin has played 3,061 playoffs since 2007, more than anyone else as teammate Sidney Crosby and Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks. Many guys have beaten in playoff runs, but Malkin has gone through almost everything.
Maybe he will come back with Game 2. Maybe he does not do that. But a lot of time Malkin misses makes the Penguins much weaker and improves the chances of the Capitals getting past the team they beat repeatedly in this round of playoffs.
It is obvious that Malkin himself is lost to a game. He is a great player.
He is one of the five best strikers in the world, just as you wish. He has been for more than a decade. He is also a playoff horse. Among the players who have played in at least 40 playoff games since Malkin's rookie year in 2007, only Crosby has scored more points per game than Malkin's 1.05. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup Run and has had a fall in each of the last two seasons.
The penguins have a large center depth, but the replacement of Malkin resounds in their lineup and makes a lot of players worse.
The third line center of the Penguins is Derick Brassard, a Columbus trade deadline pickup that would be the second port of call for most teams. The fourth line center is Riley Sheahan, a Detroit-based trade pickup that's more like a typical third-party liner. When Crosby and Malkin are on top of the depth map, the penguins have a trump card edge in the middle. If one of them is injured, it goes from big to good.
The biggest problem is that the penguins lose a huge matchup advantage. Malkin is better than any center in the world other than Crosby or Connor McDavid. The second-best defensive pairing and second-best control line of most teams are not geared to deal with him, but they have to, because Crosby is in a separate line. (Teams could use their best defenders against Malkin and risk it with Crosby, which works for them.)
But when Malkin leaves, the greatest advantage of the penguins begins to dissipate. Crosby can still dominate, and he did so after Malkin was injured in Game 5 against the Flyers. Possession statistics such as shooting attempts and scoring chances still show the brilliance of Crosby and line-mates Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist. These players are so good anyway and they would face the best defense.
But Brassard and Sheahan have a much harder time when Malkin is out. The fourth line also needs a new center. This is Carter Rowney, who watched as the Flyers completed about 75 percent of the shot attempts during his first game in the lineup against the Flyers in Game 6.
The Capitals already fit against the penguins everywhere, except in the middle. And without Malkin they are in better shape.
Evgeny Kuznetzov and Nicklas Backstrom are both stars. Neither Crosby nor Malkin, but both are better than all the centers the penguins have after their big two.
The Capitals still have wingers that you can meet with someone, especially because Alex Ovechkin is so good that he builds a whole group. Washington's defensive corps were at times questionable this season, but it was rock solid in a four-game winning streak to close the Blue Jackets in the first round. (The Penguins were miserably inconsistent in D vs. Philly, helped Matt Murray in two outages, but dropped 15 goals in the other four games.) In goal, Murray and Braden Holtby both went up and down, though each can be very good. 19659018] This series should be really close. Malkin's injury may even topple it.
It would not feel Hollywood if the capitals finally got over their penguin hump, only if Malkin was on the shelf or restricted. But that's not the problem of the capitals.