Two of the best players in the NHL are currently mired in two of the worst goal-scoring slumps of their career, and they're starting to get quite a bit of attention for it.
In Philadelphia, it seems as if things are starting to get ugly for Claude Giroux following a run-in (well, perhaps it was more of a non-run-in) with the local media after he extended his current goal drought to 21 games (six games to end last season, 15 games to start this season) in a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. In that game, Devils enforcer Cam Janssen managed to pass Giroux on the goal-scoring leader board this season with his first of the season.
In Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin hasn't scored in his past nine games and while things aren't getting confrontational, they're just getting ... well, let's call it emotional as the local press tries to read his "nonverbal signals," whatever the hell that means.
Consider this from the Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi following Pittsburgh's 4-2 loss in New York on Wednesday night.
Still, this Evgeni Malkin slump is a real concern. (Clearly, as was evident by the direction of that Game Story – and coach Dan Bylsma’s acknowledgment that it is a factor going forward.) Malkin declined comment Wednesday night after a ninth consecutive game without a goal. Do not read too much into that, as Malkin is not one to speak daily or after every game. That said, for as much as a reporter can, this reporter feels he is best positioned to read Malkin’s nonverbal signals, and the ones he is sending are disconcerting. He appears completely flummoxed over his inability to dominate – and the read here is this is not just about the 3 goals-14 points start to this season.
How dramatic. No word yet on what exactly it is about. But rest assured, it's something.
For some reason this always seems to happen with Malkin, and whenever he goes a few games without a goal there always seems to be a search for some deeper meaning, as if there's something else going on other than a great player not being able to buy a goal for a stretch. It's not the first time Malkin has experienced a slump like this, and he's always managed to bounce back. This isn't even the longest goal-scoring drought of his career. During the 2009-10 season he went 11 straight games without a goal and followed that up with an 11-game stretch where he scored eight goals.
That's how the game works sometimes. It wouldn't be unfair to call a player like Malkin or Giroux a streaky goal-scorer because every player in the NHL is a streaky goal-scorer. They score in bunches, and they sometimes go long stretches where nothing goes in.
It's sometimes very easy to forget that these types of streaks are very common throughout the NHL because we expect our great players to always be great. When these types of streaks involve some of the best players in the league -- and some of the highest paid players in the league -- they tend to get a lot of attention.
But they happen all the time, every season, and nobody, not even the best players in the league, are immune to them.
For Malkin, this is the fifth time in his career he's gone seven or more games without a goal. It's the ninth time Giroux has had such a streak. That might seem like a lot for players of their standing around the league. But it's not. It's not even close to being a lot.
Consider the table below which includes the top-15 goal-scorers in the NHL since the start of the 2006-07 season, and how many times they've gone five or more games without a goal over that stretch, how many times they've gone more than seven games without a goal, as well as the longest goal drought during that time.
|Player||Goals (since '06-07)||5+ Games||7+ Games||Longest Streak|
These are some of the best and most productive players in the world over the past seven seasons, and every one of them, with the exceptions of Kovalchuk and Ovechkin, has struggled through at least one stretch of 10 or more games without a goal.
Most of them have experienced one or two seven-game (or more) stretches without a goal per season. They don't appear on the table above, but does anybody remember the time Ryan Getzlaf scored one goal over 20 games? Or when Anze Kopitar went 26 games last season with only one goal?
If these guys experience slumps like this, imagine what it's like for the second, third, and fourth liners of the league.
Hockey's a weird game sometimes. It's a fast, physical, fluky series of event that can produce crazy results in individual games or small stretches throughout the season. You have players flying around the ice, chasing a puck that's wildly bouncing off the walls as they try to pick a corner on the net that's the size of a coffee can. Sticks get in passing and shooting lanes. Deflections go wide. Shots ring off the post or crossbar a quarter of an inch from being in the back of the net.
There's only so many goals to go around, and sometimes no matter how hard you try, how hard you play, or how well you play, the puck just isn't going to go in for you. It's true on a team level and an individual level.
If these streaks happen in the middle of February when there is a large sampling of games around them they probably don't get as much attention. But because they're happening at the beginning of the season it stands out a little more. Claude Giroux doesn't have a goal yet? Outrageous. Evgeni Malkin only has three goals and is only averaging a point per game? Something must be wrong!
The thing about Giroux and Malkin right now is that they're not really that far off from their normal career levels.
Even during his peak year, the 2011-12 season when he was competing for the scoring title, Giroux was never a huge goal-scorer. His 28 goals that season not only didn't even lead his own team (that was Scott Hartnell), but they placed him 37th in the league, sandwiched between Alex Burrows and Andrew Ladd. Very good. Top-line material. But hardly a contender for the Rocket Richard award. Goal-scoring has never been the biggest part of his game.
Based on his shot totals this season and career shooting numbers Giroux is really only about three goals behind where you would expect him to be at this point in the season. That's hardly a huge drop. One or two bounces go his way over the past 15 games and it's probably an entirely different situation for him (maybe that doesn't make a huge difference in the standings -- because it wouldn't, but at least he wouldn't be getting dogged about a huge slump). At some point this season he's probably going to have a hat trick, or a six or seven game stretch where he puts five shots in the back of the net and everything balances out.
The same is true for Malkin, as he is only two goals behind his expected goal output at this point based on his career shooting numbers. Though, with Malkin his shot numbers are a bit down to start the season as he averages 2.81 shots per game. His career average is 3.66. Some of that could be attributed to the revolving door of mediocrity that has been the Penguins' second line this season as they try to find replacements for the injured James Neal and Beau Bennett. Jussi Jokinen has filled in admirably, but they've been forced to try the likes of Chuck Kobasew and Jayson Megna on his line, as well as double shifting him at times on the fourth line with Tanner Glass and Craig Adams, and it's just not the same.
Yes, these guys are fighting it right now and the puck isn't going in for them. It's happened before, and based on their track records in the NHL it's probably not going to be long until they bust out of it.