After seeing him live October 5, I can confirm Evgeni Malkin already is a genius. At Stockholm's Globe Arena, for the second of two NHL games on European soil, Malkin showed he was head and shoulders above the competition, and even his own teammates. Yes, he was even better than Sidney Crosby too.
The atmosphere was dare I say, tepid. With the game beginning late (20.30) due to TV, and with only a single Swede (Alfredsson) on the line-up cards, one would think there would not be much to cheer about, though then there was Evgeni. On paper it was Pittsburgh's home game and subsequently the crowd of 13,699 mildly supported the home team Penguins. Yet, despite this being the NHL in Sweden, they still brought the imported gimmicks like: "Let's hear it for your Pens" (ugh)!
In the crowd were many an NHL team jersey. I counted at least 3 Oilers sweaters (including my own) and saw all other Canadian teams including the Flames, Leafs, Canadiens, Canucks. Ottawa obviously had a ton of supporters including a contingent of what must have been contest winners all wearing silly Senators jerseys with 08 on the back. Peter Forsberg was also well represented. To my left sat three, what looked like, brothers each wearing a jersey from teams he'd represented - Nashville, Philadelphia, Colorado. Perhaps another brother with the Nordiques jersey was relegated elsewhere.
But back to Malkin. At one point in play, he cruised through the neutral zone casually bouncing the puck on his stick blade, 3 feet off the ice. He skillfully, almost lackadaisically, crossed into the offensive zone and with a small hop, dodge an oncoming bus in an Ottawa jersey, dipsy-doodled towards the net, still juggling the puck, only to be steamrolled by his own line mate. Pardon the alliteration, but Malkin made magic!
Although on this night, Ottawa won the game. Alfredsson worked like a dog. He wasn't flashy, but the Senator's gritty play beat the Penguins. Malkin and Crosby were the most talented players on the ice, but Ottawa executed the better game plan.
The NHL in Stockholm was great hockey and a pretty decent event but it was Malkin that made it interesting.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in attendance, as was former NHLers like Calle Johansson, Andreas Dackell, Börje Salming, Mario Lemieux and (my grandfather's and many a Calgarian's favourite Swedish Calgary Flame) Håkan Loob.
Håkan Loob with Calle Johansson & the dude from Swedish Canal+ TV.
Former Oiler, Jason (Gator) Smith in warm-up
Face-off featuring Crosby (behind the linesman) & Malkin.