Evgeni Malkin needs to start showing up bigger.
Think Wednesday night might provide some incentive?
Let’s hope so.
Because if seeing fellow-Russian Alex Ovechkin in the opposite sweater, in the midst of pumping in goal-after-goal this season doesn’t provide an added layer of inducement, who knows what will.
As the Penguins (13-8-0) travel to Washington (12-8-1) on Wednesday night in a clash atop the Metropolitan Division — and with a lone point between the two teams — certainly Pittsburgh’s Malkin can look at Ovechkin, the Caps’ star, and feel a tad envious.
After all, this is the same Ovechkin who, despite ups and downs in his career, is tied for the league lead in goals (17) and has put the puck in the net four times in the past three games to have the Capitals victorious in their last three and 7-2-1 in their previous 10.
This is the same Ovechkin who cranks the heavy portion of the machinery for an offense that leads the Metropolitan with 69 goals through 21 games.
“All I watch is him scoring every night on the highlights,” Penguins veteran Craig Adams said of Ovechkin. “So he must be playing well and doing something right. We know what kind of a player he is and how dangerous he is. [Stopping him] is going to be a big part of the game.”
Certainly, it has to be for the Penguins.
But what of Malkin? And not just in this monumental regular-season clash (if there is such a thing in the NHL) but also moving forward as the season progresses to the New Year and beyond.
What is the answer with him?
How does he get it going?
Some will be quick to come to the defense of Malkin, sharply — and correctly — pointing out that he’s fourth in the league with 17 assists and his 20 points through 21 games this season is adequate production.
But Evgeni Malkin isn’t paid to be adequate. He isn’t paid to help, either.
Malkin isn’t here to be an Ed McMahon-type figure with these Penguins, but rather, one of the two Johnny Carson-types along with Sidney Crosby.
And, by extension, he needs to put the puck in the net.
There is no other way to put that or describe it nicely — he is paid to make the lamp light, not to set people up.
Three goals in 21 games for Malkin isn’t good enough. Not even close.
Or, to put it another way, Adams shouldn’t have as many goals as Malkin through this many games, with Brandon Sutter having one more and Jussi Jokinen having five more.
How about looking at it from this perspective: Malkin’s three goals right now ties him with Ottawa’s Chris Neil, a man generally more apt to use his stick as a his own personal combat weapon than a goal-scoring device.
Crazy when it you see it in those terms, huh?
Certainly there is a built-in, incorporated excuse for Malkin as linemate James Neal has missed much of the season and a game of musical chairs was being played alongside him for a time.
That said, 14 games without a goal — no matter if Malkin is playing alongside two kids from SHAHA all-star team — is far too deep of a drought for a guy who signed an 8-year, $76 million contract extension in June.
Simply, you have to make your own way at times; you have to get it done on your own merits if you are, truly, that good.
There is no doubt here that Malkin is, truly, that good.
Wednesday night in this game against the Capitals would be a great time for Malkin to begin to extract him from this cavernous goal-scoring slump.
After all, the biggest motivation he needs will be standing there in that opposite sweater with a big No. 8 on it.
And also standing atop the NHL list of goal scorers.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.