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Evgeni Malkin's Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

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Dan Bylsma participated in an informative and fairly revealing interview on 93.7 The Fan Friday in which he discussed Evgeni Malkin's off-season conditioning:

"Normally, Evgeni [is] a guy, who at this point in time, he kind of goes back home and is off-the-map for about a month. We got word yesterday [that Sergei] Gonchar, he ran into Geno, and Geno has been working out extremely hard," said Bylsma. "He's never seen him look this good. Never seen him working out this hard and really had a lot of good things to say about where Geno is at."

I'm excited. 

Evgeni Malkin really is a special player. When he's gone, we'll remember him. But while he's here, because of the unique situation that he's in with Sidney Crosby, he may often be forgotten or underappreciated, and that's a shame.

Malkin is similar to Jaromir Jagr that way. I didn't miss Jagr right after the Penguins traded him, at least not initially.

Jagr was, of course, the most dominant offensive player of his era. He was built like an ox, with a powerful stride. He had amazing hands and the ability to score in bunches.

But when Jagr left, it didn't really hit me at first. The Penguins never missed the playoffs and always had a potent offense to make up for their defensive shortcomings - or at least that's how it seemed to me as an 18-year-old who had seen the team make the playoffs 11 straight seasons. 

Time passed and I gradually realized how much I missed many of the players who left, especially Jagr. Distance made the heart fonder.

The same applies to Evgeni Malkin. With Crosby and Malkin both out of the lineup, the Penguins simply don't have any elite offensive talent.

What the team did without its two big stars was impressive. It could be devastatingly boring at times, but it made the best out of a bad situation. It just wasn't enough. No offense to Jordan Staal or Chris Kunitz, but they can't carry a line or dazzle like either of the Penguins' top two centers can.

Crosby's never-say-die attitude, work in the corners and explosive speed is a wonderful, captivating skill set that I grew attached to as soon as he became a Penguin. Next to him, Malkin can seem almost lackadaisical at times. 

The tall, languid Russian, skating fluidly and dealing out dangles as though they were hereditary, sticks out like a sore thumb on the Penguins' speedy, net-crashing roster. In a very good way. When he is on, he is breathtaking.

And few players, not even Crosby, can take over a game like No. 71 can when everything clicks.

Reports began trickling out a couple of weeks ago that Malkin had entered this offseason with a renewed sense of purpose. Bylsma was even asked during his interview about the persistent rumors that Malkin felt he was ready to return during the playoffs. That Bylsma confirmed that the team felt he may have been ready for the finals is not only surprising, but exciting. It shows how hungry and healthy Malkin is. 

I am hopeful that Crosby will return from injury at his old level of play, that he has no further head injuries, and can continue his record-setting career. Cautious optimism would be the proper phrase.

With Evgeni Malkin, I'm just flat-out excited to see him play again. You should be too.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.