I don’t think anyone saw it coming so early, at least not in their home country.
Last Wednesday, Finland stunned the homeland by defeating Russia 3-1 in the quarterfinals of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Finnish team had stellar play from the ageless Teemu Selanne and Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, but the devastating defeat had Russian fans immediately pointing fingers at their own countrymen.
Some put the blame on Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, who only contributed one goal in five games for the Russians. Ovechkin currently leads the NHL with 40 goals, nine more than anyone else.
Some felt that Pavel Datsyuk didn’t live up to his role as captain, but his six points in five games might say otherwise.
There was only one Russian player who fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins cared about, however, and that man is Evgeni Malkin.
The man Pens fans call “Geno” was far from magnificent during the Olympics. Like Ovechkin, Malkin was only able to contribute one goal over five games.
So what does this mean going forward? It could go two different ways.
He could continue his sluggish ways with the Penguins and allow the emotional defeat in Sochi to stay with him through the rest of the season. This could lead to bad penalties, poor leadership and few pucks behind opposing goaltenders.
Or we could see the most passionate and aggressive Malkin that we’ve ever seen in a Penguins uniform.
I believe it will be the latter.
Anyone who has watched Malkin play knows that he uses emotion to his benefit and has always seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder. Sometimes overshadowed by the greatness of Sidney Crosby, Malkin exemplifies the confidence with the puck to do things that many others wouldn’t even attempt.
If it’s a one-on-three heading into the zone, 99-percent of players would dump the puck in, even if they were entering the zone with speed.
Malkin doesn’t think that way. Here, I have proof.
The Olympics in Sochi are related to the Vancouver Olympics from four years ago in one big way – hockey was the most important medal for the home country.
Not only did the Russians not win gold, but they didn’t even make it to the medal round. That sting felt by Russian players will be felt for years, and Malkin will be one of the heaviest recipients of the blame. But that just means that the chip on his shoulder has increased and his play could elevate to another level.
The next 24 regular season games for the Penguins will mean one thing to Malkin: Credibility.
Sure, many people in North America will still say he’s one of the best players in the world, but I doubt there are many believers over in Russia right now.
Malkin is the only Olympian from the Penguins who didn’t advance to the medal round, and surely he’ll be hearing from Crosby and Chris Kunitz about Team Canada’s triumph in Sochi. Olli Maatta and Jussi Jokinen will head back to Pittsburgh with some hardware as well – a bronze medal they earned after Finland defeated the USA 5-0 on Sunday.
Russia’s poor showing in their home country is going to affect Malkin, but maybe leading the Penguins to a Stanley Cup will help dry some of those tears.
Look out for Malkin once the NHL season starts back up; he’s going to prove to the world that his performance in Sochi was a fluke.