|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2008||[Print without images]|
Everything is finality and doom and hoping against hope.And if there is one thing that seems to be lacking as these finals slide toward the inevitable, it's perspective when it comes to Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.
|The Detroit Red Wings have shut down Evgeni Malkin in the Cup finals, limiting the skating room he craves to create offense.|
Now, the well has gone dry and Malkin seems powerless to find water when the team is dying of thirst.Has Malkin been treated unfairly? "That's not for me to say," Therrien said. His play speaks for itself, and what it says isn't pretty. He has no points in the finals and seems suddenly tentative with the puck when he gets it, which isn't often enough. But let's have a little compassion. If not compassion, then let's at least have a little perspective. Malkin is not yet 22 years old. He has never played close to this many postseason games in his hockey life. His first NHL playoff games were a year ago, and he played in five of them. "He's an important player for our team, and with good reason," Therrien said. "He's facing a tough time. He's a good kid. He means well. And it's not a matter that he doesn't want to have success. He wants success." Teammate Jordan Staal said Sunday Malkin will produce when it's most important. Still, it seems that train has left, at least for this season. Instead, one wonders what the long-term impact of this late-playoff swoon and the accompanying pillorying in the hockey media might be on Malkin and his evolution. In some ways, he's an easy target. He speaks little English, or rather he is uncomfortable talking in English. Earlier in the series, when he met with a group of print reporters, he admitted he was tired, something most players wouldn't acknowledge to the press. Then he told Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he wasn't comfortable with his positioning at the point on the power play, which annoyed the coaching staff. If Crosby, who is North American and accessible (he has done at least one press conference and often two almost every day since the playoffs began April 9), had suffered such a playoff letdown, would he be subject to the hammering Malkin is now experiencing? We doubt it. When a player can't defend himself or explain his mind-set, it's easier to tee off on him. And don't forget the xenophobia that has often been part of the game, especially at playoff time. Remember the old chestnut about teams needing to avoid being too European if they wanted to win a Cup? The Detroit Red Wings, heavily dominated with Swedes and Russians, are about to dismiss that yet again as they are on the verge of another Cup win, and there's more than a little irony to that fact. Remember when it was a player named Pavel Datsyuk who couldn't cut the mustard when the going got tough, at least according the pundits? In Datsyuk's first playoff experience in 2002, he had three goals and three assists in 21 games as the Wings won the Cup. Hardly a dominating performance. Then, over the next 21 postseason games as the Red Wings went through a change in personnel and coaching staff, Datsyuk had zero goals and nine assists. Every spring, people rolled their eyes at the Wings' chances with Datsyuk on board. But last spring, Datsyuk, almost 30, broke out with 16 points in 18 games. He's followed that up with 20 points in 20 games this spring and his name is now being bandied about as a potential Conn Smythe candidate as playoff MVP. Seems like a long time ago that Datsyuk was getting the Malkin treatment, no? Let's assume history sides with Detroit and the Wings win the Stanley Cup. Does this experience harden Malkin, and make him a better player? Or does it settle in his soul and raise issues of self-doubt? Does it mangle his confidence when so much of what he was about was having the confidence to let his skills take him where they wanted, mostly to the opposing goal? One likes to think it won't, because a talent like Malkin is a terrible thing to waste. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.