COLUMN: Earth To Malkin, Kessel

It’s been fun to watch a couple guys for various reasons so far this season.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed how good Bryan Rust has been through the first five games. He is absolutely flying out there. Carl Hagelin is doing much of the same except a little less success on the score sheet.

I have liked the play of all the guys who got extensions in the offseason. Brain Dumoulin has been good. Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz much of the same.

I’ve marveled seeing Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel return this season with the same magic they had last season. You can add Patric Hornqvist‘s return from hand surgery to an inspired group of hockey players.

Kris Letang finally returning. Greg McKegg earning a roster spot out of camp. Matt Murray returning for his “sophomore” season, technically. There have been lots of encouraging stories to come from the Penguins’ early 2-2-1 start to the season.

As all these awesome stories play out, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have been nothing but bystanders to it all.

There is a lot of money and expectations tied up between these two Pittsburgh folk legends for them to be making a very minimal, if not opaque, impact on what the team has done in the first five games.

Between the two of them, they have seven points on the season. Rust alone has seven point and leads the team. Captain Crosby, who’s been everything you’d want from your captain in the early going, has six points by himself.

But, hockey isn’t just about the score sheet and getting points. Yes, you don’t win without them, but you can make an impact away from the puck as well. Kessel and Malkin both have not had a game yet where they stood out amongst everybody on either team.

To Kessel’s credit, he was one of the better players in the Nashville game which the Penguins inevitably won in shutout fashion. That same game, I can’t recall hearing much of Malkin’s name being called.

I’m not one to call out someone’s work ethic. I am not, by any means, calling Malkin lazy because he is far from it. He is one of the most driven hockey players in the league and Penguins fans have seen first hand what happens when Malkin gets locked in. Perhaps, you’re a “I’d rather him exert himself in April and beyond, not now” person, which is understandable. But I have yet to even notice Malkin make an impact in any of the Penguins five games so far. I’m not worried about him. I’m just wondering if he knows the season started.

Kessel is a different story.

I predicted a 30 goal, 80 point season for Kessel. It really just had a feel that was right. Two Stanley Cups later, maybe that would drive Kessel to have his best season yet and help drive the Penguins to something historic. This is what Kessel is and does. He plays when he wants to. He is a guy who will fill the back of the net with goals, but they come in spurts. He can score in six straight games. He’ll then counter that with a 10-game goal drought.

I am not worried about either of them. They will turn it up eventually and I will shut my mouth. But to make $9.5 million (Malkin) and $6.8 million (Kessel); I don’t think they should escape criticism just because of their star status.

The Penguins are already short at center depth. If there was ever a time for Malkin to play up to the standards he is capable of, it is now until they find a better third-line center than McKegg. For Kessel, just be more consistent. Don’t be so sporadic in scoring goals. Do it with more consistency and I promise you, this team won’t have anything to worry about.

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