When they got to their hotel the night before their season opener at Carolina earlier this month, Penguins road roommates Maxime Talbot and Evgeni Malkin decided to order a pay-per-view movie, Malkin's choice.
- Matchup: Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:08 p.m. today, Air Canada Centre, Toronto.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Andrew Raycroft for Maple Leafs.
- Penguins: Coming off 3-2 loss against Montreal at home Wednesday. ... Were 3-0-1 vs. Toronto last season, outscoring Leafs, 22-13. ... Petr Sykora is one goal shy of 250 for his career.
- Maple Leafs: Have scored 18 goals (tied for second before last night) and allowed 18 goals (tied for most before last night). ... Have played in two blowouts and two OT games. ... Mats Sundin has 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) and is plus-6 with at least one point in each of team's five games.
- Hidden stat: No Toronto player has had a hat trick against the Penguins since Darryl Sittler March 5, 1980.
Talbot yesterday was reluctant to divulge what they watched, but not because it was risque.
"It was 'Transformers,' " Talbot said when pressed.
It is likely that at their Toronto hotel last night, Talbot again let Malkin pick a movie as they relaxed before the game tonight against the Maple Leafs.
Malkin is not necessarily a film fanatic. Movies and sports-related television shows double as language tutors.
"He likes to watch movies he's already seen in Russia," Talbot said. "He wanted to watch ['Transformers'] again so he can learn more English."
Contrary to a popular theory that Malkin has shirked any obligation to learn English, he is doing well with it. He just doesn't display it in public.
"He's getting there, slowly but surely," team captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think he's more comfortable around the guys. That's the biggest thing. You come in from a different place, you have to meet new teammates, new friends, learn a whole new lifestyle. He's adapted well. He fits in well. I think we all try to make him feel welcome."
Malkin, 21, was flying on the ice from the opening day of training camp and is off to a strong start again in his second NHL season. Through three games, he is leading the Penguins with four points, on a goal and three assists, and is tied for the team lead with a plus-1 plus-minus rating.
"I feel pretty good on the ice," Malkin said through interpreter and team employee George Birman. "I had a great summer training. Hopefully, I'm going to have enough energy for the entire season."
A year ago, Malkin was the league rookie of the month in October and November and went on to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year with 85 points, although his stamina waned toward the end of what was the longest season he had played.
He did not get much of a chance to look down in the scoring statistics at Crosby, whose 120 points were tops in the NHL, but he is two points up on Crosby for now. That lead could grow tonight, judging from history. Malkin had two goals, 11 assists in four games against Toronto last season. Those 13 points were the most on the Penguins against the Maple Leafs.
"It's just how it happened," Malkin said. "I try to play against every team the same way."
Asked about a friendly points race with Crosby, Malkin smiled.
"The competition is great," he said. "Competing against Sid is great."
Occasionally, that competition includes skating on Crosby's wing. Other times, Malkin is at his natural position of center. That's where he was at practice yesterday, with wingers Jordan Staal and Ryan Malone. That could change before or shortly after the drop of the puck tonight, given coach Michel Therrien's propensity to sift through line combinations.
In Russia, the longtime trend has been to keep five-man units intact.
"Over here, you have the coach trying to find the best lines," Malkin said. "He changes the lines often. I'm fine with that. I've gotten used to it last year and this year. I can play the entire game with different linemates."
Therrien sees nothing but continued improvement from Malkin with the sky as the limit.
"The expectation is different this year than last year," he said. "He's got a lot of skill -- could play center, could play right wing. He's an elite player, and he will become a superstar, I believe, in this league. We really like the way he's progressed from last year."
That includes his comfort level off the ice, where he is included as much as possible in locker-room talk and even jokes among teammates.
"We don't always know if he gets them, but we have some laughs," Crosby said.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.