Malkin: Islanders Were Hungrier Team

Penguins star center talks changes to roster, Sullivan's system

Josh Rowntree
April 16, 2019 - 11:24 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) warms up before playing the Calgary Flames at PPG PAINTS Arena.

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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Evgeni Malkin feels the Penguins just did not have it. But identifying what ‘it’ might be seems like it may be a struggle. 

Malkin spoke for nearly six minutes following the Penguins 3-1 loss to the Islanders Tuesday night, capping a 4-0 New York sweep and the Penguins’ earliest exit from the postseason since their 13-year playoff streak began. 

“We need to understand how hard this League is. Every round is so hard against each team. They deserve it. They have a great team, great coaches and they played unbelievable. They played hungry.

“They were a little bit hungrier. They wanted to win more. They’re blocking shots, they forechecked, back-checked. They looked like the wanted to win more.”

After scoring in the series opening loss in New York, Malkin did not find the net again. The team, as a whole, managed to score just six times in the four games, including just twice at PPG Paints Arena this week.

“They played hard in the defensive zone, one-on-one,” Malkin said. “We tried so hard, I think it was our best game of the series and we still scored one goal. 

“When you score, every game, like one or zero goals, you start getting a little bit frustrated. You think too much.” 

Focus will now shift to if changes could be coming to the core of the team that won a pair of Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. Players like forwards Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist could be on the move. Defenseman Kris Letang and, potentially, Malkin himself, have been suggested by some to be players that could be dealt if a massive shakeup is coming.

“It’s a tough loss,” Malkin said. “But we need to learn and, next year, we need to understand there’s young guys, they’re hungry. Every team is trying to win. We’re not champions anymore. No one respects our team, and everyone wants to beat the Penguins.

“It’s not like we’re not trying or not hungry. They won 4-0. It’s a better team. We need to understand, they played better. Maybe their system was better. Maybe their players were better.”

Malkin’s notion is that instead of overhauling the roster, minor changes could be necessary, and tweaks to Mike Sullivan’s system could be in store, as well. 

“I don’t know, you can’t change the whole team,” he said. "You can’t change ten players. Of course (Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford) changed a couple. He’s trying, I think. But I don’t know, there’s great players here. I don’t know, we’ll see what’s going on this summer. 

“Everyone here tried to win. You can’t change the whole team. Maybe he’ll try to change one or two more. But we’re the same system, same coaches, same players, too. We need to just play better.”

The ultimate question, with this group, might be if it’s too old or too slow to compete with a League now modeled after the four-line speed system Sullivan deployed during the back-to-back Cup runs. 

“We have a long summer right now,” he said. “I think everyone, like the coaches, will think that we’ll change the system a little bit. Maybe change the power play system, too. 

“I think now we’re fast enough to win games. They scored 2-on-1 every game. We need to be faster, for sure. But we’re not slow. But if you need to win, you need to be one step forward. 

Hear all of what Evgeni Malkin had to say below.