PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin is his own worst critic.
Sometimes, he’s way too hard on himself, even when he is playing well.
Malkin scored a team-high 11 points on two goals and nine assists in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Even though it was the second-highest point total in the NHL after the opening round, the 26-year-old center thought he could have done more in the six-game series against the New York Islanders.
Although he was happy to win the series, Malkin said: “I can do more, play better.”
Well, two games into the Penguins’ second-round series against the Ottawa Senators, he certainly hasn’t taken his foot off the gas pedal.
Geno continues to do what he does best when on his game — go full-throttle.
Entering Saturday’s action, Malkin was tied with the Boston Bruins’ David Krejci for the league lead in playoff points (14) while leading the league in assists (11).
Consequently, the top-seeded Penguins carry a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 of their best-of-seven series Sunday against the Senators in Ottawa.
Malkin, drafted second overall behind fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals in 2004, has recorded points in all eight of the Penguins’ postseason games.
He is just the fourth player in NHL history to accomplish the feat, joining Fleming Mackell, Bobby Orr and Joe Sakic.
Still, Malkin expects much more in the next-to-last year of a five-year, $43.5 million contract he signed with the Penguins in 2008.
He is zeroed in on earning his second Stanley Cup ring.
“I try to play every game my best,” he said. “No turnovers. Just trying to play simple. I had 11 points (in the first round), but I had a couple bad turnovers and the Islanders scored goals and won games.
“Just work in my defensive-zone more. I’m not seeing my points. I’m seeing my game on both sides. Offensive zone, I can’t score every game. But when I play better in the defensive-zone, it’s very important to me.”
Malkin’s six multiple-point games in the playoffs are the most in the NHL.
“He’s played well,” said captain Sidney Crosby, the Penguins’ other superstar center who had a hat trick in Game 2 on Friday, a 4-3 Penguins win. “But you don’t reach his level without high expectations. He’s pushing himself to be even better.”
In Game 2, Malkin assisted on Crosby’s third goal just 1:15 into the second period. The assist tied Malkin with Kevin Stevens for fifth place on the team’s all-time postseason list with 60.
In the Penguins’ 4-1 victory in Game 1 Tuesday, Malkin assisted on a first-period goal by Paul Martin and also scored one.
“He creates so much momentum for our team,” said Penguins winger Chris Kunitz, who plays on the same line with Malkin and James Neal. “We all have to learn from our turnovers. Everybody makes mistakes.
“Geno’s a guy who makes up for them five-fold. He’s just such a threat. It’s a lot of fun to watch when he gets it going. Hopefully, the trend will continue.”
Not only has Malkin’s scoring picked up in the playoffs — he had just nine goals and 31 points in 31 regular-season games — his forechecking has been better, too, leading to several turnovers by the Senators in the series.
“I think he’s been great for us this postseason,” said Penguins veteran winger Jarome Iginla, acquired from the Calgary Flames at the trading deadline in late March. “Unfortunately at times, you’ll see a mistake here or there. But he’s been great.”
Malkin knew he had to step it up in the playoffs.
He left before the season was finished to rejoin the Penguins when the NHL lockout ended in January, but still finished third in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League in scoring with 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 37 games while playing for his hometown team of Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Yet despite capturing the NHL scoring title and Hart Trophy as MVP last year, he ended up missing 17 of the Penguins’ 48 games in the strike-shortened season, although he did lead the team with 18 points and 14 assists on the power play.
Malkin’s issues were two-fold. He was slowed by a concussion and hampered by an aching left shoulder that could require surgery in the offseason.
On top of that, Crosby also missed the final 12 regular-season games and the playoff opener against the Islanders with a fractured jaw.
“Very disappointing,” Malkin said. “(I) knew I needed to be better for playoffs.
“I want to show my best game because this year wasn’t great for me. I have a chance to play better.”
Malkin has upgraded his game from better to brilliant since the Penguins began postseason play earlier this month.
Ron Musselman is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @ronmusselman8.