It has been a long season for Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, but he seemed thrilled Tuesday to arrive at the eve of the NHL playoffs.
"It's fun," Malkin said after practice at Southpointe. "We waited until the last day because we didn't know which team we would play. It's fun to watch."
Malkin and the Penguins will meet the New York Islanders tonight at Consol Energy Center in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference series.
During the lockout that pushed the start of the NHL season to Jan. 19, Malkin played for his hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. Although he left Russia before that season was over to rejoin the Penguins, Malkin finished third in the KHL with 65 points in 37 games.
After winning the scoring title and Hart Trophy as MVP in 2011-12, Malkin had a dropoff in his NHL performance in a season that was interrupted at times because of a shoulder problem and a concussion. He played in 31 of the Penguins' 48 games, finishing with nine goals, 33 points.
In the final three regular-season games, after an absence of four because of the shoulder, Malkin had a goal and four points. Now, he is ready to recapture the form that made him the best player in the NHL a year ago.
"I feel great," Malkin said. "Nothing's hurt. It's exciting to play. We have a great team. I want to show my best game because this year wasn't great for me. I have a chance to play better."
He's also looking for team redemption after the Penguins lost to Philadelphia in six games in the first round of the playoffs last year. It's something he said he thinks about "a lot."
"We played badly," he said. "We lost with big scores. You can't play like that in the playoffs. We need to play better in the defensive zone."
Pre-playoff crush hits coaches
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma felt himself sliding from the everyday grind of game preparation in the regular season to something a little different for the postseason.
He said after the club learned Sunday night that the Islanders would be the first-round opponent, the coaching staff "feverishly spent ... 21/2 days, or longer, preparing, getting ready and preparing the team."
By the time he got to the second half of the day Tuesday, Bylsma expected to scale down to watching additional game video of the Islanders, but in a more relaxed setting than before.
Then, he expected Tuesday night "to be quiet. We've prepared. Now we're getting ready to open the gates for Game 1. In the regular season, we'd be working [Tuesday] night, watching video."
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik skated with conditioning coach Mike Kadar before practice for the second day in a row. Orpik, who has an undisclosed injury, wore a track suit and ballcap, with no pads, which would make it seem unlikely he will be ready to return tonight. ... For a second day in a row, a group of players remained on the ice for additional practice quite a while after the other Penguins. That group -- forwards Beau Bennett, Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale, defensemen Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo, and goaltender Eric Hartzell -- could well make up the healthy scratches for Game 1.