PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin does not plan to leave the team that drafted him.
After nine seasons in Pittsburgh with one Stanley Cup, Malkin said he continues to believe his best chance to win a second championship remains with the Penguins. Pittsburgh has not reached the Stanley Cup Final since winning it all in 2009. The Penguins have been a fixture in the playoffs every year of Malkin’s career, but now head into a long offseason after getting knocked off by the New York Rangers in five games last Friday.
Despite the lopsided outcome, Malkin pointed to the competitiveness of the series - all five games were decided by a goal - as proof Pittsburgh is not far off.
“It’s a good group,” Malkin said Sunday as players packed up for the summer. “We stay together all throughout the playoffs. They’re good guys . We lost three good defensemen. It was a tough season for us. I had a couple injuries, but it’s tough to say right now. We have a good team, but we played against the best team in the league.
The Penguins faced the Rangers without injured defensemen Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot. Malkin, who missed time in the final month of the season with an unspecified injury, thought that played a role in Pittsburgh’s postseason struggles. Malkin didn’t record a goal in his 15 games or a point in his final 10.
With a healthy lineup, Malkin thinks the Penguins remain a Stanley Cup contender. As long as that’s the case, he has no desire to look elsewhere for work.
“I’d like to stay here,” he said. “I have a house here. My parents love to stay here. We won one time, a Stanley Cup. Me and (Sidney Crosby), and (Marc-Andre Fleury). I believe we can do it again.”
Malkin played impressively in his first season under coach Mike Johnston before injuries hit. While he tied Sidney Crosby for the team lead with 28 goals, his last one came against Anaheim on March 6. Malkin stuck up for Johnston, who was hired last summer after the Penguins fired Dan Bylsma.
“It’s tough for (Johnston). It was his first year,” Malkin said. “I think he’s nervous. But I like that he always stays positive. If we have a problem at the end of the season … He stays positive. He supports the guys. We practice hard. We work hard. We always stay positive.”
Pittsburgh entered the Christmas break 22-6-5 and atop the Metropolitan Division by three points over the New York Islanders. It since went 21-21-7, and earned a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season with a 2-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s been a short time, but reflecting back, I take a look at the season, up until Christmas, I thought things were rolling on all cylinders,” Johnston said. “We had the mumps at that time, but still, until the Christmas break, we were right there at the top of the league. We were scoring. Our goals against were down. Our special teams were good.”
Johnston said the Penguins’ season came down to one particular day.
“I thought the real turning point for me was March 14,” Johnston said. “I know I always talk about that date, but we were coming in to play Boston and we had only lost two games of our last 10 or 11. We were really picking it up as a team. Our injuries, we were healthy. We were feeling good as a group. Probably playing our best hockey. Then Sid went out before the game. (Malkin) goes out during the game. (Patric) Hornqvist, we lose two games later. And then Ehrhoff couldn’t return.”
When Letang followed Ehrhoff to the injured list after suffering a concussion against Arizona on March 21, Pittsburgh limped to the finish line. Yet Malkin and Crosby remain undaunted.
“The expectations are high and they haven’t changed,” Crosby said. “It’s the same. This is where I want to be. It’s tough, obviously, when you lose and you don’t like it, but that’s the process sometimes.”
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