Streeter Lecka, Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
All this week, Madhouse Enforcer will be taking a look at the key matchups to watch for when the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins tangle at Soldier Field as the final stop in the NHL's Stadium Series on Saturday.
Today's matchup is Patrick Kane vs. Evgeni Malkin.
As the new millennium got underway, the Blackhawks and Penguins were in similar states as hockey franchises. Attendance was stagnant, winning was a thing of the past, and both teams were in desperate need of new ownership to push them in the right direction.
Fortunately for both clubs, help arrived on several fronts. For the Penguins, Mario Lemieux bought the team, prevented them from going belly-up, and ended up building the franchise enough to necessitate a new arena. On the Blackhawks' side of things, it took the death of Bill Wirtz to get the team going in the right direction, as his son Rocky took over the team and ended up changing the entire culture of the franchise through a series of shrewd hires, like team president John McDonough.
Both teams also benefitted in a big way from some serious luck in the NHL Entry Draft. The Penguins missed out on a chance to draft Alex Ovechkin in 2004, but they ended up with the second pick, using it on Evgeni Malkin. The very next year, they got the number one overall pick, and they took some guy named Sidney Crosby.
As for the Blackhawks, their luck in the Draft came in the next two years. In 2006, they drafted a player out of Manitoba named Jonathan Toews. The next season, they got the number one overall pick, and they drafted a precocious kid from Buffalo, New York, selecting Patrick Kane number one overall.
While Crosby and Toews don the "C's" and have led their teams to the promised land, it would seem that Kane and Malkin get pushed to secondary status on the squads at times. It seems appropriate then to compare the two of them as the teams head toward their Saturday showdown.
After missing some big chunks of the past few seasons thanks to injuries, Malkin has rebounded beautifully in the 2013-14 campaign. His 18 goals and 40 assists give him an impressive 58 points through just 47 games played, and even though he struggled (along with the rest of Team Russia) at the Sochi Olympics, Malkin is still arguably one of the top players in the NHL today.
As for Kane, he has been healthier than Malkin, and he has made some big strides forward this season as well. His 27 goals and 36 assists are both near the top of the leaderboard when it comes to Hawks skaters, and earlier this season he was being mentioned as a serious contender for the Hart Trophy (an award that Malkin won in 2012) despite struggling to find good chemistry with a second line center this year.
So which of these two players wins in a head-to-head matchup? Honestly, it's almost an impossible decision to make. Neither player is present much on their teams' respective penalty killing units, but both are incredibly effective on the power play (Kane has 23 power play points this season, while Malkin has 21). Both are very gifted puck movers who are just as likely to pass to open teammates as they are to take shots themselves.
When push ultimately comes to shove though, it's Malkin who holds the slight advantage over Kane. Kane may be the slightly superior passer of the two, but Malkin also knows how to get it done when it comes to putting the puck in the net. Kane has only cracked the 30-goal mark once in his career, and Malkin has accomplished the feat four different times, including in his MVP season in 2011-12 when he racked up a remarkable 50 goals for the Penguins.
When these two teams square off at Soldier Field on Saturday, a lot of the focus will be on the first ever matchup between Crosby and Toews, but to those fans who enjoy great offensive hockey, the battle between Kane and Malkin could be just as compelling.