Evgeni Malkin is confident, but he isn’t making any guarantees.
With only one goal in his last 15 games and no points in the Stanley Cup final, the Pittsburgh Penguins forward is still searching for answers as to where his offence has gone. He praised the San Jose Sharks’ defence, said he needed to shoot more and believes a breakout game is coming.
But unlike in the first round of the playoffs, when Malkin all but promised a Game 7 win against the New York Rangers, he isn’t guaranteeing a breakout in Game 4 against the Sharks.
“No, it’s a tough game,” Malkin said on Sunday. “It’s (the) finals and we know it’s not easy. They win one game. It’s not easy game. We respect San Jose. They’re a great team. We try to win tomorrow.”
Malkin added it could be a lot worse. Yes, he isn’t producing right now. But even with the Game 3 loss on Saturday, the Penguins are still two wins away from hoisting the Cup. Expect the scrutiny to increase, though, if Pittsburgh loses Game 4 on Monday and Malkin remains cold.
“No, what do you mean?” he asked when a reporter questioned if he was frustrated with his lack of production. “We lead 2-1 in the series. Yeah I’m not scoring much but I’m trying to help my team in different ways, play better in ‘D’ zone and faceoffs. I’m trying. It’s not easy. I’m trying to score. Maybe tomorrow, but I do my best.”
A key to Malkin’s struggles in the final: a drop in the Russian’s shot generation. He had 3.85 shots per game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference final, but has managed only eight shots in three games (2.67) against the Sharks.
“We’re playing against good defencemen,” said Malkin, who has not scored since Game 4 of the Tampa series. “They play so close and so tight. Tough to shoot sometimes … need to shoot more for sure, need to find a way to shoot. When you shoot, you feel so much better because if you not shoot you not score.”
Malkin, of course, is not the only sleeping giant in the series.
San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, who leads the post-season with 13 goals, has been held pointless in the final, while Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Brent Burns are still searching for their first goal.
“There’s been a lot of plays where it’s been almost there and they get a stick on it,” said Pavelski. “We’re creating some chances. It’s just that end result hasn’t been there.”
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer added that this time of year is difficult for all the star players.
“Those guys get a lot of attention. Every round, he’s getting a lot of attention,” DeBoer said of Pavelski,” just like Brent Burns is getting a lot of attention, just like Jumbo (Thornton) is getting a lot of attention. That’s not an easy role to play. I have no doubt he’s going to break through here. He has all year for us. It’s just a matter of time.”
KARLSSON FILLS IN WELL
Tomas Hertl, who missed Game 3 with a lower-body injury, remains day to day.
But after winning without the 22-year-old forward, the Sharks are confident they can do the same in Game 4.
“I think it went alright,” said Pavelski, who along with Thornton were joined on a line with Melker Karlsson (although Couture replaced Hertl at times).
“(Karlsson) made some great plays, created some energy and got in on the forecheck. All the things that when we have played with (Karlsson), that’s what he’s done. I think it was fine.”
MURRAY’S FINE: SULLIVAN
A day after the Sharks “got to” goaltender Matt Murray, scoring three goals, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was asked if he was concerned about the 22-year-old’s psyche — especially after Joel Ward scored a questionable goal to tie the game in the third period.
“He’ll be fine,” said Sullivan. “The one thing we love about him is his makeup and his ability to move by circumstances that maybe aren’t what he had hoped they’d be, and just focus on the next game or the next save.
“I think Matt, that’s one of his strengths. His body of work throughout the course of this playoffs has been terrific. We know he’s going to make the timely save for us moving forward.
“I know Matt will respond the right way.”
PENALTIES TRENDING DOWN
It appears the referees have put away their whistles. There were three penalties called in Game 3 — none in the final 20 minutes — and only three in Game 2.
It’s a trend Sullivan expects to continue.
“Well, I think there are less penalties called,” said Sullivan. “It just seems like that’s the trend in the playoffs. You usually don’t get a lot of opportunities on the power play. If you have a chance to make it work, that’s great.”
LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE IN SJ
For a team that has waited 25 years to play in the Cup final, you would think the Sharks would be a little more prepared for all that goes into hosting.
But from not having enough space in the press box to scheduling practices for the teams at two different arenas, covering the final has been a logistical nightmare.
On Sunday, reporters were rushed out of their work space immediately after DeBoer’s news conference because someone booked a birthday party in the same space.