What a difference a couple of weeks can make. From growing optimism for a strong season to start, to the mystery shrouding a silent Crosby and a reborn Matt Cooke.
It feels like the bottom has been cut out and we as Pens fans are clutching dearly to hope and the daily “will he or won’t he be ready” articles. I talked to someone who knows Sid closely and has since he was a boy, and even he is as in the dark as the rest of us.
I just don’t want to turn to the same news or lack there of to throw water on my season just yet. Even Adams appendectomy got a few mentions on Twitter for an hour or so before the next Crosby rumour du jour bumped Addsy from the front page. Basically, there is one man who is still very much in the shadows, but has promised a huge return to the game, that I feel has largely gone unnoticed since Sid hit the headlines almost 2 weeks ago.
Gino Malkin has talked a lot of junk since the season ended, but now we must be praying he really is as healthy as he claims. Even if we had Gino in the playoff line-up and he scored just one goal (albeit a PP goal), the prospect of advancing past the first round would have been assured. So as everyone waits for anything good about Sid, I’m looking at Gino.
“Make me a milkshake, Malkin” hasn’t been heard since the mid winter days and it can’t come fast enough. But there is still hope that even without Sid ( and I cannot help but feel there will be no captain come camp or opening night in Vancouver), Evgeni will take the reigns as he did when Sid went down in 07-08. For the simple fact that, well, he really has no choice.
I really feel that Gino is down to very few chances if any to prove not only superstar paycheque, but superstar presence on this already formidable line-up. He has done nothing except that great shoot-out winner vs. Detroit in 2010 that left Jimmy Howard still looking for his jock, and that post goal fist pump, oh, and trash talk to the Ottawa bench in Game 1 that following spring.
Injuries have slowed the big man, but there has been no sign of any motivation beyond that Conn Smythe and MVP season. Just the words Conn Smythe to me signify a long list of players deserving of that accolade but those who earn it in the regular season and playoffs. Nine mil is a hefty price to pay for no production value beyond Pens Gear and the on-line shopping sites for anything with a 71 on it.
Now, I think that Pens management has to really hope that at least one of our thoroughbreds is ready to go, or there isn’t much beyond what we’ve already witnessed. Flower can’t play out of his mind for 70+ and neither can the rest of the line-up for even half of what we saw last season.(God forbid we go through another last season again). Injuries mount, yes that it is a given. But there is no price tag for heart in the NHL and Gino better have the heart of a LION come opening night.
There are no more excuses. He says he is taking a run at the scoring title. Just showing up doesn’t assure you of that. Just ask fellow countryman, AK 72 who is currently unemployed in any league that really matters outside of our EST time zone. And it’s that kind of disappearing act that got him his deal in that other league. We all know Disco and the staff know what Gino can bring to the table on a game by game basis. But can he fill that leadership void that Sid has left vacant since that shocking night vs. Tampa?
Remember the Malkin that torched Phoenix not a week before? The fire and passion he showed up and down the ice all night? Can he bring that every single shift in every single game? Nine million dollar players make 9 million for a reason. They produce AND they lead. Game in and game out. No exceptions and with no excuses.
So while I and the rest of Pens Universe waits for the next 3 weeks with breath held tight for camp to begin, I’m looking a little further down the bench to the man who can make his mark early and often...and pretty much whenever he feels like it.
Players like Gino are special. We have seen it too many times to write off simply as slumps or playing on bad teams. Players like Gino make things happen and come October, I hope there’s more than just a “A” on his jersey, I want to see his heart on his sleeve, that fire in his eyes and the panic in opposing net minders faces….