Malkin injured in his debut

Penguins rookie will be evaluated today

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MONCTON, New Brunswick -- Rookie center Evgeni Malkin needed only a few shifts in the Penguins' 5-4 exhibition victory against Philadelphia last night to show what he can do against NHL-caliber competition.

Good thing, too, because that's all he got.

Malkin, a rookie making his first preseason appearance, left the game with what some team officials feared was a dislocated left shoulder 62 seconds into the second period, after colliding with linemate John LeClair behind the Flyers' goal line.

General manager Ray Shero would say only that it is "an upper-body injury" and that Malkin will be evaluated in Pittsburgh today.

Linemate Mark Recchi also was taken to the hospital with a potentially broken cheekbone, the result of being smacked by the stick of Flyers forward Randy Robitaille 69 seconds into the game.

Recchi returned to action a few minutes later, but subsequently experienced blurred vision and swelling and was taken for further examination. He also will be evaluated today.

Both were cleared to fly home with the team last night. Malkin did not appear to be in pain or wear anything to support his shoulder after the game. He was injured after setting up a scoring chance for LeClair.

After LeClair fanned on his first shot attempt after taking a feed from Malkin, he lost his balance after getting off a shot from the left side and was doing a split as he crossed the goal line. A fraction of a second later, his path intersected with that of Malkin, who was circling behind the net, and Malkin was launched into the air. He landed on his face, opening a cut that left blood on the ice, and his left shoulder. Malkin's left arm was dangling as he was helped to the locker room. He was taken to a local hospital for examination.

"I was happy he got up," Shero said.

"He made a great pass to Johnny," said Sidney Crosby. "He looked confident out there. Hopefully, he'll get back as soon as possible."

The win raised the Penguins' preseason record to 1-1. Sergei Gonchar (two), Ryan Malone, Crosby and Colby Armstrong got their goals, while Jeff Carter, Mark Cullen and Mike Richards (two) scored for Philadelphia.

Losing Malkin for an extended period of time would be a major setback for the Penguins, who already had penciled him in to center one of their top two lines. Any doubts about whether he was capable of competing at this level had been erased long ago.

"Malkin's ready," coach Michel Therrien said yesterday. "By far."

Malkin did nothing last night to shake Therrien's faith. He picked up an assist 107 seconds after the opening faceoff, when he helped to set up a five-on-three power play goal by Gonchar, and was effective in every conceivable role through the opening period.

He skated a regular shift at even-strength, killed penalties and worked on the top power-play unit. He had only one shot, but stickhandled through the Flyers several times like they were so many puffs of smoke.

Malkin's teammates have recognized since the early days -- no, minutes -- of rookie camp that he wasn't likely to sputter against NHL-caliber opponents.

"We've seen what he can do, how talented he is and how well he can skate," Recchi said a few hours before the game.

Malkin's injury overshadowed the Penguins' experiment with No. 1 draft choice Jordan Staal on left wing.

Staal's performance was solid, though not as spectacular as Malkin's. Whether it will help to convince management to keep him on the NHL roster this season rather than returning him to Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League is uncertain.

"It's too early [to decide]," Therrien said. "We have an open mind."

He said management decided to try Staal, a center by trade, on the left side with Sidney Crosby and Colby Armstrong last night "to give him a chance to play with two good players," and that it "doesn't mean he's going to be a left wing."

Even though he never spent any meaningful time on the left side, Staal did not balk at the change -- "I don't mind," he said. "It doesn't really matter to me, as long as I get to play" -- and added that he did not anticipate any serious adjustments to his game because of the move.

"Probably a few tweaks here and there," he said. "But a lot of it is just playing hockey. You're in different positions all the time, even when you're at center. Sometimes, you come back late and someone fills in for you, or something like that. It's really not a whole lot different."

Crosby was one of those rare talents who could step into the league and be effective just months after being drafted, and said that nothing he has seen from Staal leads him to believe that Staal can't do the same.

"He's adapted great," Crosby said. "He's using his strengths to his advantage out there. He's battling, and he's a strong kid."

Ron Ward, Moncton Times Transcript via AP
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin falls face first after tripping over teammate John LeClair last night against the Flyers.
Click photo for larger image.
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Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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