In our inaugural podcast a few weeks ago, the THS editors discussed who might be the recipient of a couple different NHL awards had they been given out at the midway point of the season. Among our Hart Trophy finalists were Claude Giroux, Jonathan Toews and Henrik Lundqvist. We also made a brief mention of Evgeni Malkin, you know, as an honorable mention.
Fast forward three weeks later, and the Hart Trophy is a no-brainer. Despite the absences of Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, Malkin has returned to the unstoppable force that helped him win the Art Ross Trophy in the 2008-09 season.
Malkin's three points yesterday, including the overtime game-winner, helped the Penguins erase a 2-0 deficit and sink the Capitals, 4-3. In Pittsburgh's last six games, all wins, Malkin has eight goals (three game-winners) and 13 points.
During that stretch, the Russian sniper has carried his team from ninth place in the Eastern Conference to sixth, just two points behind the Ottawa Senators for fifth. They've also got two games in hand on the Sens.
Malkin's resurgence, while not shocking, is all the more impressive considering the questions that surrounded him heading into this season after a knee injury limited him to just 37 points in 43 games a year ago. It was the only time in his career he's averaged less than a point per game.
Rehabilitation was long, and a setback early on this season had Pittsburgh fans fearing the worst, already not knowing when their captain would return. Malkin missed seven games in October dealing with discomfort in the same surgically-repaired knee.
But since returning, Malkin has given the limping Penguins a hitch in their step. In 41 games this season, Malkin has a league-leading 58 points.
Now, with improved play from Marc-Andre Fleury and the return of Kris Letang on the blue line, the Penguins are looking more and more like the worthy adversary they've been since the lockout.
No one is expecting Malkin to sustain this furious rate of scoring through the entire season, but nobody would exactly be surprised if he did, either. While the Rangers and Bruins are busy bludgeoning each other in a race for the top spot in the East, could the Penguins quietly be joining the conversation of the conference's elite?
Even without Crosby, at this pace they project to be anything but the easy out they were in last year's postseason.