April 27, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (left) and left wing James Neal (18) celebrate after Malkin scored a goal during the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Evgeni Malkin Better Off Without James Neal

James Neal is no longer a Pittsburgh Penguin.

He is in Nashville, and Evgeni Malkin will no longer be teaming up with the sniper on the second-line anymore.

And that may be the best case scenario for Malkin.

Neal and Malkin were good buddies on Pittsburgh over recent years, and I’m sure the news that Nashville had taken his trusty right-winger must have been saddening to Malkin, but his productivity could see a huge boost next season.

Malkin, for a significant amount of time, never really had sufficient scoring wingers on his line, and seemed to do just fine without them. Now that Neal’s gone, we could very well see a more dominant Malkin – if that was anymore possible.

The issue I have with Malkin’s game over recent years is he’s become too passive. So has Sidney Crosby, but they play two completely different styles. Crosby is better suited for it though, because he’s always played a pass-first game, making it easier for him to develop that style.

Pittsburgh needs Malkin to take more shots.

At the end of the 2011-12 campaign – when he won the Hart Trophy (MVP) – he fired 339 shots, which resulted in 50 goals. 50! That was through 75 games too. This past season, Malkin fired 191 shots, and garnered just 23 goals in 60 contests. It’s still a solid total, but that’s 27 goals shy of what he’s capable of.

That’s what Pittsburgh has got to snap out of in general: trying to get too cute.

Often times, you’ll see them looking for the perfect goal instead of just taking the shot. Malkin is no exception. And that’s not how you get the best of Malkin. The guy’s got to absolutely pelt the opposing goaltender. And now that Neal’s gone, Malkin may do just that.

Crosby has a wrist ailment, and who knows how he’s going to feel next season. If he doesn’t recover entirely, and goals are hard to come by, the Penguins are going to rely heavily on Malkin to be the backbone in that category. Malkin can only do that if he’s letting loose that cannon of a shot more often than not.

It’s Neal who needed Malkin, not the other way around. Malkin, to me, made Neal who he is today. So, what does that tell you? That Malkin is fully capable of tearing up the field by his lonesome. Think about who he had as his wingers before Neal: Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Maxime Talbot, etc. Those names aren’t too wowing, and Malkin still generated a handful of goals.

When Malkin takes over a tilt, it’s arguably one of the best shows to watch. Now that Neal’s in a Preds’ sweater, there’s no limit to what Malkin can do.

Unleash, Mr. Malkin, unleash.

Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins

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