The Penguins have a few needs heading into the playoffs; Evgeni Malkin dominating isn't one of them.
Does Malkin need to play better? Absolutely. He has more penalty minutes than points, and is averaging barely over a point per game. That is not the level of play everyone expects from a two-time MVP.
But Evgeni Malkin dominating games in Sid's absence wont matter if the rest of the team doesn't improve in the process. We saw Geno dominate most of last season while Crosby dealt with concussion symptoms. In the end, the team faltered down the final stretch of the regular season before crumbling in the first round.
Malkin needs to play better. But so do Brooks Orpik, Brandon Sutter, Matt Niskanen, and, yes, Jarome Iginla.
Other than the first few games of this season, Orpik has been atrocious over the last two years. There have been plenty of games where he has been the biggest liability on the ice, defensively. Look no further than two games ago against the New York Rangers. His poor performances tend to get overlooked by the media because he spends a lot of time in front of a microphone throwing stones at his team's defensive effort. Hypocritical but, hey, if it sells papers…
Brandon Sutter hasn't registered a point since his goal against the New York Islanders on March 22nd. He's also had a rough time in the face off circle this month, including a face off loss last game that led to New York's only goal.
Matt Niskanen has been a turnover machine and proven not to be a power play quarterback in the absence of Paul Martin and Kris Letang.
Then there's Iginla. He's a future hall of famer. He's a goal scorer. He's a fan favorite. But right now, he's not producing. To Iginla's defense, he is still new to the team and the system. When you look at his passes, it is pretty clear Iginla is use to playing with guys who are significantly slower than Evgeni Malkin. Iginla should have things figured out by the playoffs, but until he does, he's an average player.
This isn't about deflecting attention away from Evgeni Malkin's struggles. This also is not an expectation that the aforementioned players should elevate their game to the same level as Malkin. Mainly, the healthy players remaining on the roster need to play better, or suffer another early exit in the playoffs.
At any rate, Malkin's struggles seem noticeable enough without anything being said. He's an elite player, he needs to play like one. But his play in April won't necessarily determine the path of the team in May.
For the Penguins to go on a deep run, they need everyone to tighten up in the defensive zone, like they did in March, and pressure in the offensive zone. The defensive play has been shoddy this month, including last game's 2-1 shootout victory. Marc-Andre Fleury did a lot to cover up his teammates' defensive lapses that led to odd-man rushes and golden chances in front of the net.
Just like last year.
Sidney Crosby should be back by the opening round of the playoffs. Maybe missing a player of that offensive talent should have the Penguins thinking about defense instead of leaning on a player who has carried them multiple times over his short career.
Don't get me wrong, the Penguins do need Malkin to play better. And with the next three games coming against some of the Eastern Conference's worst teams, it may be an opportunity for Malkin to get back on track. But they equally need to get their defensive play back to last month's level.