Pens need more Malkin

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

DETROIT -- With his limited command of the English language, but with a surprising economy of words, Evgeni Malkin described the Pittsburgh Penguins' version of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.

"Yesterday's game," he said. "Bad."

He was talking about his team. He was talking about himself. He was talking in a hallway outside the Penguins dressing room at Joe Louis Arena, away from the television cameras he so detests, trying his best to understand and explain what can't necessarily be understood or explained.

Malkin did nothing in Game 1. In whatever language you want to communicate with him, he knows that much. He knows he has to be better. He knows he has to lead. He knows if he and Sidney Crosby don't do it, it isn't going to get done for the Penguins.

At least Crosby in the opening game had a couple of decent shifts early, a few opportunities in the early minutes against the Red Wings. But Malkin was nowhere to be found.

When asked how he felt for Game 1, he said he was "a little bit tired."

He said he won't be tired tonight for Game 2. "I feel okay," he said. "I'm okay."

The test for the 21-year-old indeed is severe. He was bounced around a bit by defenceman Niklas Kronvall, the Swedish wrecking ball, who is matched up against Malkin. But maybe the worst moment of the night came when he battled Red Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk for a puck, was beaten, then knocked down by Datsyuk, who made an offensive play off the turnover.

Datsyuk, for the record, looks like Malkin's little brother.

"I need to be more physical play," Malkin said. "Have to hit, pressure defenceman. Hit, yeah hit."

The key word, apparently, is hit.

Yesterday, coach Michel Therrien took Malkin aside to have a chat. The coach told him he needs him to a leader. The coach told him he can't think about winning games by himself. The coach told him he has to use his linemates: In Malkin's past five playoff games, he has one goal and one assist. In the previous 10 playoff games, he had an impressive 17 points.

"Bad game," Malkin said. "Coach change lines."

Tonight, Maxime Talbot, normally the fourth-line centre, has been moved to Malkin's wing along with Petr Sykora. Ryan Malone, who has been playing with Malkin, is now playing wing with Crosby and Marian Hossa. Gary Roberts is into the Pittsburgh lineup; Georges Laraque is out.

"The bottom line," Roberts said, "is we have to get on the same page. I don't think we were on the same page in Game 1 ... I think we have to play an uglier game."

Some might contend that Game 1 was plenty ugly for the Penguins. Because when it came to puck possession, they had almost none. Playing without the puck is a skill, just not advised for an entire game.

Malkin seems to understand this. "He understands a lot more than you think he does," said Eddie Johnston, the former Pittsburgh coach who is part of the Penguins management team. "Sometimes I think it's a little easier for Sid than it is for Malkin. Sid has Mario (Lemieux) around. He lives with Mario. If he needs to know something, Mario is right there. Malkin has Gonch (Sergei Gonchar) but it's not the same."

Malkin didn't need to learn much when Crosby went down with an ankle sprain in mid-season. He just took over the team, took over the league almost. "I don't think he's the kind of guy who needs a lot of advice right now," Roberts said. "Just let him do what he does. He's an exceptional player and there's no reason why he can't be that tomorrow.

"He's not one of those fancy guys who plays on the perimeter. He's as strong on his skates as any guy out there."

Still, Therrien is doing the coaching thing, trying to find the Malkin who has lost his way. "You have to be positive with him," Therrien said. "He feeds from positive.

"We need him," Therrien said.

They need him now. They need him tonight. They need him if they are going to make this a dream series rather than a foregone conclusion.


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