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Top Shelf: Malkin milkin’ experience for all it’s worth

Evgeni Malkin has 13 goals and 33 points in 20 2008-09 playoff games. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Evgeni Malkin has 13 goals and 33 points in 20 2008-09 playoff games. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

When lines get drawn between the old Edmonton Oilers and the now alive-and-kickin’ Penguins, 87 is typically melded to 99.

But three games into a Stanley Cup final led 2-1 by Detroit, it’s Pittsburgh’s No. 71 who’s on the verge of posting a Gretzky-like total.

Evgeni Malkin leads all playoff scorers with 33 points through 20 playoff games. Given the final is guaranteed to run at least two more games and as many as four, it’s virtually assured Malkin will end up with the highest post-season point total since Wayne Gretzky had 40 while leading the Los Angeles Kings to the 1993 Cup final.

Since then, the two most productive springs came from Ranger Brian Leetch in 1994 and Avalanche Joe Sakic in 1996, both of whom tallied 34 points.

And you thought Malkin wasn’t a playoff performer.

OK, we thought it, too, but what else were we supposed to take from his disappearing act in last season’s final showdown? Malkin obviously extracted a lot from it, most notably that the final is a higher level of hockey where efforts that sufficed in rounds past suddenly fall short of what’s required.

Placing things in the big picture, it’s pretty impressive that a kid could take all the hard lessons learned as a 21-year-old in 2008 and implement the necessary adjustments one year later. All things considered, that’s a pretty sharp learning curve.

The only goal Pittsburgh has scored in the Cup final that Malkin wasn’t in on went into an empty net in Game 3. The contest prior to that – when his team fell behind 2-0 in the series – ended with Malkin mixing it up with Detroit star Henrik Zetterberg.

Clearly he’s not content to be a bystander this time out.

One of the differences between Malkin and fellow star Sidney Crosby is that even when Crosby isn’t producing, it looks like he’s trying to. When Malkin isn’t scoring, he looks like a loafer. That’s often the case with ultra-talented big men who, even when they are hitting the mark, appear like they don’t have to exude much effort to do so.

Another defining discrepancy with regard to Crosby and Malkin is the fact Sid has a Swedish shutdown artist stuck to his side. Detroit coach Mike Babcock has been obsessed with matching Zetterberg against Crosby, which is a big reason why the likes of Max Talbot and Justin Abdelkader have more points through three games of the final than the league’s poster boy.

Crosby’s ability, or inability, to shake the hounding is a storyline unto itself. As for how it pertains to Malkin, it eliminates any excuse for the big Russian not to score because not only is Crosby taking a bullet by dealing with Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ other two-way dynamo, Pavel Datsyuk, has yet to take a shift in the series. There’s still plenty of red and white to fight through, but as long as Malkin is drawing secondary checking, he has no legitimate alibi for not producing.

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If Datsyuk makes it back for Game 4, life will get a little testier for Malkin. Then again, it’ll be no walk in the park for Datsyuk either, because with each passing game, Malkin is proving his final fade from a year ago was nothing more than a learning experience he’s exploiting to do some severe damage this time around.

THN SHOOTOUT
From the road in Pittsburgh, host Ken Campbell and Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review discuss... Detroit’s struggles on the penalty kill… Fatigue affecting level of play… And Pittsburgh’s support players stepping up.

PRODUCER: Ted Cooper | The THN.com Shootout will appear regularly during the Stanley Cup final.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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