As recently as a few months back, the notion was preposterous: nobody in his right mind would take Evgeni Malkin over Sidney Crosby.
But after ‘The Kid’ succumbed to an ankle sprain and endured a lengthy recovery, and Malkin emerged as a Hart Trophy finalist, the concept has nudged its way to “not as whacky as we first thought” on the credibility meter.
Malkin, 21, has undeniably been Pittsburgh’s go-to guy during the first two rounds of the post-season; the type of player you now expect to do something special each time he’s on the ice.
The Russian whiz led Penguins forwards in ice time entering Round 3 (21:00 average per game), getting more ticks of the clock than Crosby (19:42) in all situations. Most notably, Malkin quarterbacks the power play and often stays out for close to the full two minutes.
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen – before we learned he’d miss the conference final – said right here, right now, he’d give the nod to Malkin, even if you included Alex Ovechkin in the mix.
“Malkin plays pretty hard and you can hit that guy, but he still keeps going,” Timonen told THN’s Flyers correspondent Wayne Fish. “Out of those three guys he is the best player.”
The X-factor, of course, is Crosby’s ankle. There’s speculation the 20-year-old isn’t fully recovered and it’s impacting his ability to engage his top gear and/or sustain it.
Of course, some firmly believe this “choice” remains a no-brainer.
When discussing the matter, a senior THN staffer said if Crosby had been healthy all season, he would have won the scoring race and Hart Trophy; and that if you asked 30 NHL GMs which one they’d choose, all 30 would take Crosby in a heartbeat.
Perhaps. Sid is, after all, the face of the league and by far its most marketable player. But it’s good fodder for a blogger to throw to a passionate fan base that loves a good argument.
Whether the Penguins will actually have to choose between the two, due to salary cap issues, remains to be seen. In the soon-to-be-published May 27 issue of The Hockey News, senior writer Ken Campbell tackles that question and the broader one of how the Pens are going to stay together with such an embarrassment of young stars.
BATTLE TO WATCH
The Flyers-Pens series promises to be infused with bad blood from the get-go on the ice, but I’ll be intrigued to see whether the coaches renew a feud that dates to their AHL days.
John Stevens and Michel Therrien met twice in the post-season when they were with the Philadelphia Phantoms and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Penguins, respectively and the coaches got as heated as the series.
“The glass between the benches in Wilkes-Barre was hanging by a thread as they were trying to get at each other,” former Penguins winger Colby Armstrong told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Not sure who I’d pick in that rumble; they seem pretty evenly matched.
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
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