Penguins fans will often make the argument that Evgeni Malkin is just as good, if not better than Alex Ovechkin. It seems that this season, they might just be right. Malkin’s eighth career hat trick on Sunday put him three tallies ahead of Ovechkin in the goals category this season, and that’s not all he’s doing better. He leads his counterpart in assists, plus/minus, points, power play points, and most importantly game-winning goals. He’s doing all of this play nearly the same amount of minutes.
Ovechkin is the star of his own team, while Malkin only plays star while his famous teammate, Sidney Crosby, remains out indefinitely. If any assumption prevails, it would be one where Ovechkin would be expected to be putting up the best stats in the NHL on a team that was the top seed in the Eastern Conference last year. Not this year, however. Malkin, without Crosby in front of him, is the leader of the Penguins and proving his worth as arguably the best Russian player in the NHL.
Much like having a staple on a real team, Malkin should be the staple of any fantasy hockey team going forward. They rely on him on the ice in Pittsburgh, and he’s playing in a contract year. Every night he has a chance to put his stick-handling skills to work and take over a game. He’s the perfect fantasy hockey pick.
Malkin’s statistics are only going to get better, too. His Penguins currently find themselves out of the playoffs, and out of the division race behind the Rangers and the Flyers. If they want any shot at the playoffs, they’ll have to rely on their star player. James Neal has been scoring goals left and right for Pittsburgh, but with little playoff experience to his name, down the stretch we’ll see Geno (as the Penguins faithful like to call him) calling all the shots. If you’re not buying now, buy sooner than later.
Of course Ovechkin is his team’s shot-caller, but with a new coach and an inexperienced bottom six forwards, it’s unlikely the Capitals have the striking power to push the top-tier teams in the conference like they would years ago. Ovechkin’s low numbers on such a team are startling; despite the fact he’s earned a fifth consecutive all-star bid, though Ottawa’s fans ensured he wouldn’t be starting.
Ovechkin isn’t dying or nearing the end of his prime. He’s simply having a down year compared to his standards – normally set at 50 goals and a Stanley Cup. He’s still one of the best fantasy hockey players in the league – he’s just not on his game right now, and paying for it.
Follow James Moschella on Twitter – @MrCocoMarsh