The Kasperi and Geno show: Coming soon to your (East) city

Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

A seemingly declining superstar and the former first round pick returned home have turned into one of the best duos in the NHL for the Penguins. How?

If you logged onto Facebook and scrolled through the comments on any Penguins-related post in late January through early February, Evgeni Malkin was not a popular man among Pens’ fans.

Malkin has been no stranger to trade rumors throughout his career, but it’s usually been the national media that have been the perpetrator. This time, it was Pens’ fans who were calling for Geno’s head.

“He’s washed up, just trade him and Kris Letang for scraps! He’s not worth it anymore!!!”

Geno is not immune to criticism, and there have been points this season where truly has played poorly, but the calls for him to be traded were asinine. Can you imagine trading a player who, when he’s on top of his game, can be considered one of the best players in the world?

Yes, he’s 34. Yes, he probably won’t win an Art Ross or Hart trophy again, but just last season, Geno was on pace for 110 points through a full season. His advanced stats (53.4 CF% and 54.7 FF%) highlighted just how much better the Pens were when Malkin was on the ice.

His efforts in the bubble were not good, but there was no reason to think he wouldn’t come out and be one of the offensive leaders for the Pens again this season. Besides, not many Pens’ players actually showed up in the bubble.

Scoreless in the Penguins’ first three games this season and with just three points through eight games, Geno’s start was rather sluggish. His effort in the defensive zone was non-existent at times, and he just looked slow and old out on the ice.

Any number of reasons could have affected Malkin’s slow start this season; whether it was a lingering injury (like his elbow surgery after the playoffs last season), COVID impacting his offseason training or whatever. Regardless, the slow start is officially over.

In the midst of a seven-game point streak, with 10 points over that stretch, Geno has finally reverted to positively impacting the Pens while out on the ice. It’s no coincidence that over that stretch, Kasperi Kapanen has scored eight points. And it’s come while playing with Geno on the Penguins’ second line.

Maybe most encouraging of all, Geno finally looks and sounds like he’s having fun again on the ice, as evidenced by Seth Rarabaugh’s Tweet after a win over the Sabres.

When Geno is angry, he plays his best hockey. But the Russian bear isn’t an everyday occurrence. He’ll appear throughout this season, but the Penguins truly need happy-go-lucky Geno to be the face he wears most often.

If Geno starts cracking jokes in his interviews, watch out. A brand new player is making an appearance on the ice.

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Without Kapanen, this Geno might not be making an appearance either. Like many high-profile players brought in by the Penguins (James Neal, Phil Kessel and others), Kap was originally slotted in on the Crosby line.

While Kapanen has spent time on Crosby’s line this season, with some success, it’s clear he’s found where he needs to be: with Geno.

Their blossoming chemistry has been a major reason for Geno’s resurgence. Maybe not the whole reason, but it can’t hurt having a young kid with him who flies around the ice with a nose for the goal.

Geno has meshed well with a lot of players through his time with the Penguins, and the Geno-Kap combo has the potential to be just as good as any of them.

With a beneficial partnership for both players, Kapanen could be the perfect player to unlock a new gear for Malkin. And Geno could be the center Kap needs to finally take that next step in his offensive production.

If the Penguins are going to continue climbing the East division and contend this season, Malkin and Kapanen will be a big reason why.

Next. Check out how the Penguins pushed their win streak to five games. dark

What are your thoughts on Malkin’s resurgence? Do you think Kapanen and Malkin will continue to dominate the rest of the season?