Evgeni Malkin Set to Return Against Oilers, Guide Pens Back to Form


The Pittsburgh Penguins will head out on their annual Western Canada road-trip this week, facing the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, the Calgary Flames on Friday, and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

While the trip has been a fairly easy stretch in seasons past, it won’t be as much of a cakewalk this time around. The Pens continue to endure a rough patch in their 2014-15 campaign – having won only 2 games in their last 8.

Edmonton may be a favourable match-up for Pittsburgh, but the Flames and Canucks will present much tougher tests – ones the Pens may, for the first time in a long time, not be able to handle unless things turn around very quickly.

It seems the Penguins have one gamechanger coming down the pipeline, however, as star centre Evgeni Malkin is reportedly aiming to make his return to the lineup on Wednesday against Edmonton.

Malkin practiced with the team on Saturday and, according to head coach Mike Johnston, looked great in his first on-ice action since going down with injury after the team’s Jan. 20th tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The forward himself estimated he could return on Wednesday, and added that he feels ready to play.

If Malkin does indeed re-enter the Pens’ lineup, the team could finally be primed to return to form – especially with the basement-dwelling Oilers serving as the opponent for Geno’s first game back.

The true value of the Russian’s return would be the ripple effect it would have throughout the Pens’ lineup.

Geno would most likely slot back in on the second line alongside Patric Hornqvist and Beau Bennett.

That being the case, Brandon Sutter would move back down to the third line alongside Steve Downie and Nick Spaling.

Maxim Lapierre could then take his rightful place as the fourth-line anchor in between any two of Zach Sill, Craig Adams, and Mark Arcobello.

Pittsburgh’s first line of Sidney Crosby, David Perron, and Chris Kunitz seems likely to remain together.

Thus, the return of Malkin would signal an immediate shift in the team’s depth, taking them from being a fairly top-heavy team to one that is decently balanced.

Jan 18, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) takes the ice against the New York Rangers during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Geno’s presence on the second line would also give coach Johnston significantly more options in terms of in-game adjustments.

The most notable of which would be moving Hornqvist back up to play with Crosby and Kunitz (re-forming the line that wreaked havoc on the league earlier this season), while trying out Perron and Malkin together to give the club a lethal 1-2 punch.

Pittsburgh’s recently stagnant powerplay will obviously benefit greatly from Malkin’s presence as well, as the centre’s elite vision, scoring ability, and skill with the puck on his stick will be immeasurable in bringing the team’s man-advantage back to elite status.

Despite all these logistical advantages brought on by Malkin’s impending return, the most significant effect his return would have is one that goes beyond statistics.

Geno may be one of Pittsburgh’s most lethal scorers, but beyond that, he’s one of the Pens’ true leaders.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that among Malkin’s scoring titles are a Conn Smythe trophy (2009) as playoff MVP, as well as a Hart trophy and Ted Lindsay award (both from 2012) as the league’s regular season MVP.

Malkin’s play throughout this season has further proved his ability to lead, as he’s posted 19 goals and 51 points in 45 games while driving the Pens forward.

Pittsburgh’s uninspiring play as of late has often hinged on the Pens being outworked, lacking emotion, or simply not getting the key play that swings the momentum in their favour.

In the 5 games the Pens have played without Malkin recently, they managed just two wins while also getting blown out 4-0 twice.

Pittsburgh surely has more issues than the absence of one player alone, but the combination of Malkin’s return and a date with the struggling Edmonton Oilers squad could give the Pens just what they need in terms of a confidence-boost that jolts them back to life.