Kukla's Korner Hockey
by brianmetzer on 08/01/11 at 10:35 PM ET
How selfish of me.
I spent the last week enjoying all that the summer has to offer, taking in several different concerts in and around the Pittsburgh area such as Exodus, Slayer, Rob Zombie, Motley Crue, Poison, U2, Kingdom of Sorrow, Megadeth, Godsmack, Disturbed and even managed to give Dave Mustaine a Penguins jersey in the process (but that will be a story for another day).
While I was on that musical journey I completely forgot to wish Geno Machino—Evgeni Malkin—a happy 25th birthday yesterday! Crazy to think that the Penguins young stars are all turning into graybeards right before our eyes. Sure, they still have plenty of years ahead of them, but it seems just like yesterday that the team was busy grafting these youngsters onto the roster!
Though it would have been sweet of us to all get together and sign a card for Gene – Happy Birthday! Better Late Than Never!—I figured that I would share some of my favorite Malkin moments, traits etc! The list is in no particular order… hope you enjoy!
1 – “Cloak and Dagger” escape from his Magnitogorsk!
Geno’s escape from his Russian team via Finland was one of the best stories since that of his fellow countryman Alexander Mogilny’s. First came word that he terminated his Russian contract, and then a story broke stating that he had signed an extension. Then, POOF! He vanished from an airport in Helsinki and wasn’t seen again. All speculation pointed to the fact that he was en route to the United States.
After laying low for five days in a safe house in Finland, Malkin emerged and made the trek to North America. He was spotted skating with some NHLers in Los Angeles with a “Pirates of the Caribbean” jersey on and then popped up in Pittsburgh where he inked his entry level contract with the Birds. The rest is history.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get him out of there,” Mario Lemieux said at the time. “We have to listen to the player and where he wants to play. He really wants to be here in Pittsburgh, and we’ll do everything we can to help him out.”
Malkin’s journey was an amazing one and the intrigue surrounding it will not soon be forgotten!
2 – The Rookie Goal Scoring Streak
Malkin scared us all when he collided with John LeClair during his first pre-season game and separated his shoulder as he crashed to the ice. The shoulder injury would push back the start of his Penguins career, but it wouldn’t take long for him to start making a major impact on the team upon his return.
Geno would go on to set a set a modern-day record as the first player to score at least one goal in each of his first six games before having the streak stopped at the hands, or should I say fins, of the San Jose Sharks in his seventh game.
Though he started to run out of gas towards the end of his first season, he managed to finish the year with 33-goals and 85-points to lead all rookies and captured the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
3 –Malkin First Press Conference in Pittsburgh – introducing # 71 1/2
I was lucky enough to be in the front row for Malkin’s first meeting with the press. Though he spoke no English, we all got our first look at his sidekick #71 ½, George Birman, who would serve as his interpreter for many seasons to come. Birman, who worked in the Penguins ticketing office, would relay the questions to Geno at the podium and he would answer in his native tongue. Birman would give us the lowdown, which would always make me wonder if we were getting the full story, especially when one or both of them would chuckle during the answer.
Though it wasn’t that meaningful in the grand scheme of his time in Pittsburgh, I was thrilled to be a part of it, especially when I see how far he has come in speaking the language these days.
4 – The “Shades of Mario” Goal against Marty Brodeur
Not only was it one of the finest goals of Malkin’s career, but it was one of the finest of that entire season. Malkin showed a little glimmer of what he brings to the table with his size, speed, reach, and unadulterated power.
Here is an excerpt of a blog I wrote 12:35am, October 25, 2006, following the game:
There was a clip floating around the Internet for months before Evgeni Malkin made his Penguins debut, it was called Malkin Montage. The clip showed many jaw dropping moments produced by Malkin in the Russian Super League and during International play. Well, the young Russian super star delivered a few to the Pittsburgh faithful in the flesh.
Malkin played left wing on Sidney Crosby’s line for the first time tonight, and he looked like he had been there for ages. The two took a few moments to find their groove, but when they did, it was magical. The two did their best to set each other up for scoring opportunities in the first period, but were unable to produce any. That all changed in the second.
Malkin took a feed from Colby Armstrong, who must be feeling like a lottery winner playing on this line, and sent a beautiful pass to Crosby for the go ahead goal. Crosby got the puck over Marty Brodeur, something that he has been working on. Word is that he was at Mellon Arena by himself yesterday with a wooden plank blocking the bottom portion of a net, shooting an ungodly amount of pucks into the top portion of the cage. He had been disappointed with the amount of pucks he had shot straight into opposing goaltenders this season.
Malkin then stole the show with what can only be called a Marioesque goal. He took a feed from Crosby, who was at his own blue line. Malkin pulled the puck in at the opposite blue line and was met by Brad Lukowich and Colin White. He deked them using a backhand forehand move and bore down on Brodeur. Malkin used what used to be Mario Lemieux’s signature move, the backhand. Brodeur had to think he had Malkin stoned, when he deftly used his monster reach to push the puck inside the far post. Malkin leapt to his feet and punched the glass with pure excitement, then greeted Crosby with a huge hug.
Malkin shared another quality with Mario on this night, modesty. After scoring that spectacular goal, Malkin could only say that he had some energy when he came off the bench and that it was a great pass from Crosby. They caught the Devils in a change and he was able to score the goal. Nothing more, nothing less. Tonight we saw how special this kid is going to be.
5 – Point Blank Slapper – Flyers – 2008 Eastern Conference Finals
Malkin had just taken a huge hit from Mike Richards and seemed a little daze by it. Some of us on press row thought that he was injured on the play as he labored to his skates and slowly made his way up the ice. Before any of us realized what had happened, the stick was on his blade and he was gliding in on goaltender Marty Biron.
You could almost see the look of shock in Biron’s eyes as Malkin said “damn the slick moves, I’m shooting,” and cranked up from between the circles and let a slap shot go. The shot found pay dirt and the Birds had themselves a shorthanded goal.
6 – Geno Carries the Pens While Crosby Nurses a High Ankle Sprain
We all knew that Evgeni Malkin was a world class player. He had shown himself to be one of the most skilled forwards in the league, he was starting to dominate one-on-one and was looking becoming a very impressive 1B to Sidney Crosby’s 1A. But it was still sort of surprise to see him step up and place the Penguins on his back after Crosby was knocked from the line-up with a high ankle sprain on January 18, 2008.
Malkin had never had the chance during his young career to be the man and when this opportunity arose he snatched it. He used amazing stick handling, power skating through the neutral zone, one timers, slick passes and a deft touch around the net to shut up the many naysayers around the league who thought the Penguins would wilt while Crosby convalesced.
Malkin amassed 36-points (14G) during the 19-games that Crosby was out of the line-up and in the process put himself in the discussion for the Hart Trophy that season. It was an iconic run and one that we would soon see again.
7 – Malkin English Interviews
Be it “Big taste!” or Max Talbot’s “Little bit bad hands,” Geno is rarely at a lack for words when he finally gets going in English. Though he is still a bit shy in front of large groups in the locker room, he has come light years since his early days in Pittsburgh and always makes for an interesting interview. Personally I can hardly wait to see a Root Sports promo this fall in which he gets the chance to say; “Now I place to Root!”
8 – Malkin’s Performance in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Specifically “the Geno”
Malkin had already wowed us during the 2008 season, but he would take everything to a new level during the 2009 campaign. Not only did he put up points in bunches during the regular season, clinching his first Art Ross Trophy with 113-points, but he would go on to have one the best playoff performances in Penguins history.
Malkin was one of the main reasons the Penguins were able to win the Stanley Cup in 2009 and his stretch of play that spring is the stuff of legends. Though the entire playoff was a thing of beauty, one goal can be used to show how dominant he was during that tourney – “The Geno.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma dubbed Malkin round the net, spin-o-rama goal against Hurricane’s goaltender Can Ward “the Geno” during his post game comments and he almost seemed as speechless as the rest of us in trying to describe it. The goal, which secured a hat trick for Malkin, came off of a set face-off play in which 71 took the draw. He pushed the puck into the corner, gathered it, worked around the net holding the defender off with his arm and effortlessly fired a backhand shot into the top corner over Ward’s arm.
9 – We’d have no Geno to Celebrate Without the Malkins!
Though Evgeni Malkin is quite the star in Pittsburgh, his celebrity is almost surpassed by his charismatic parents. Vladimir and Natalia Malkin have been staples at the rink in Pittsburgh since Malkin’s first year with the team. They usually make at least one trip to town per season and can be seen in the stands hamming it up for the cameras, posing for pictures with fans and of course providing that extra zing to push Geno to play his best.
His parents have reached cult-like status in town and draw huge cheers each and every time that they are shown on the jumbotron during a game or on television.
10 – The 2011 NHL Season
Ok, ok, I know, the 2011 season isn’t necessarily one of Geno’s greatest moments, but it will be. I expect the kid from Magnitogorsk to have a monster season. He has a lot to prove to himself, his teammates, his coaches and the league. Many have spent the last two seasons asking what happened to that guy who dominated everything in 2009 and I fully expect him to reappear in October.
Malkin is working out harder than I can ever remember and wants to get back into the “best player in the league” conversation. Don’t be surprised if it is he and Sidney Crosby going neck and neck for the Art Ross trophy this year.
Now that you have heard my ten moments, traits, etc… what are yours?
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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