Those crazy sports writers have done it again. They have kick-started the Russian machine.
Let me just say that I’m a fan of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ron Cook. Other than Gene Collier, he is the only local sports writer whose “writing voice” doesn’t sound like my great-grandfather trying to tell me a funny joke he heard at the VFW.
Cook’s article in the wake of the Penguins’ Game 3 showdown in Montreal, titled “Malkin needs to come alive,” caused quite a stir amongst die-hard Pens fans.
I am not a media watchdog. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to write a sports column every other day. Hell, I can barely tie my own shoes without employing the bunny-ears technique. However, I have to say that it is incredibly disappointing when a good writer like Cook not only calls out a star player in the middle of a deadlocked series, but does so in such a vague, veiled manner. Cooke phoned-in the column so hard that Verizon is going to charge him roaming fees.
“Malkin gets more of a pass in this town than, say, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who will spend today and Tuesday reading and hearing how he was thoroughly outplayed by Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the Canadiens’ 3-1 win in Game 2….But it will get ugly for Malkin fairly quickly if his scoring drought continues.”
“Yo, Ron. I’m really happy for you. I’mma let you finish. But Geno is one of the best Penguins of ALL-TIME. Of All-Time.”
The reigning Stanley Cup playoff MVP gets a pass in this town? Certainly not from the local sports writers who cover him, who alternate from accusing him of pouting when he is going through a slump, to patronizing him like he’s some sort of comic-relief foreign TV side-kick when he is playing well.
Thankfully for Penguins fans, Malkin has a knack for making his detractors look silly. In January, Cook wrote the infamous “Sulking won’t cure Malkin’s slump,” which contained the derogatory phrase, “Can you say Jaromir Jagr?” Days later, Geno responded with a hat trick against the Islanders that jump-started his best stretch of the regular season.
Last night, his game-winning power play goal changed the complexion of an entire series. There are only four or five guys on earth who can do what Malkin did – beat a red-hot goaltender with a slapshot from so far away that I thought Geno was grabbing a hotdog at the concession stand.
The goal was Malkin’s fifth of the playoffs. For comparison, Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk have six. Vancouver’s Siamese-superstar Sedin twins have six combined. San Jose’s sniper-extraordinaire Dany Heatley has one.
Malkin’s 10 postseason points are on par with Art Ross-winner Henrik Sedin, who went up against the LOLs Angeles Kings and shaky goalie Jonathan Quick in the opening round, while Malkin’s opposition has opted to play dump-and-retreat-hockey.
Yet the Pittsburgh media—hungry to stir up website hits and the angry calls that are the life-blood of a 24-hour talk radio station—would have you believe that Malkin, whom they love to point out makes nine million dollars this season don’t cha know, is underperforming compared to other NHL stars.
Do you know what the real is difference between Malkin and those aforementioned superstars? Kane, Datsyuk, Heatley and the Sedins play alongside other All-Star talent. Malkin plays alongside rental-players and an ever-changing rotation of one-million-a-year wingers who can barely finish a Filet o’ Fish.
Cook is right about one thing: It is telling that four of Malkin’s five goals this postseason have come on the power play. When surrounded with adequate talent, he shines. In big moments, he shines so bright you need to borrow Grandpa’s shades just to watch the TV.
As the Post-Gazette’s own excellent Penguins blog Empty Netters points out, Malkin has now scored seven game-winning postseason goals in only his fourth year in the NHL. Crosby has five. Ironically, Jagr is the franchise’s leader in playoff game-winners with 14.
It took Jagr 11 season to reach that mark.
Somehow, despite winning two Stanley Cups and five NHL scoring titles in the black-and-gold, Jagr was turned into a villain in this town.
Why? Because that narrative sold papers.
Penguins fans should pray that the same story isn’t pushed on Malkin, who doesn’t have the luxury of playing on Le Magnifique’s wing.
For those that question Geno’s heart, just remember that the 23-year-old has a Hart in his trophy cabinet.