Dave Molinari on the Penguins: A weekly look inside the team, the issues, the questions

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Look for Versus to play up the Ovechkin Connection before and during tomorrow night's game in D.C.

Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin challenged the world as members of Russia's Olympic team last winter.

Today, they'll take on cable TV.

Malkin, the Penguins' first-year center, and Ovechkin, the Washington winger who beat out Sidney Crosby as the NHL's top rookie last season, are slated to tape a joint interview with Versus, the network that will carry the Penguins' game against the Capitals tomorrow at 7:08 p.m. at the Verizon Center.

Good thing they'll be tag-team partners since Malkin doesn't speak -- or understand -- enough English to participate on his own. Consequently, Ovechkin will serve not only as co-star, but translator.

Odds are he won't mind, though, since he and Malkin have become buddies

"We're pretty close," Malkin said through translator George Birman. "When we played at the Olympics, we were roommates. We talked a lot during that time. Now, I still call him and try to keep in touch."

Tomorrow, however, will be the first time they've faced each other in North America.

"It's going to be very interesting," Malkin said.

Ovechkin told the Post-Gazette a few hours before he was awarded the Calder Trophy in June that he fully expected Malkin to win it this season, and word of that prediction made it back to Russia quickly.

"It was nice to hear something like that from him," Malkin said, smiling.

While he and Ovechkin have a lot in common, personality is not one of them. Ovechkin is far more animated and extroverted.

"He's kind of an outgoing guy," Malkin said. "He likes to have a lot of fun everywhere. Myself, I'm a little bit of a different guy. I'm a little bit, maybe, shy. I'm kind of quiet."

That does not mean, however, that Malkin does not admire some aspects of Ovechkin's demeanor. Or that he wouldn't like to emulate them.

"He's a great leader of his team, on the ice and off the ice," Malkin said. "His personality is just, 'Win the games and be the best.' "

The sign on the Igloo still reads Mellon

The city is losing another corporate headquarters, thanks to the Mellon Financial-Bank of New York merger last week, but it will be keeping the name of its arena.

At least for a couple more seasons.

A deal struck in 1999 gave Mellon the right to put its name on what used to be the Civic Arena for 10 years, and Penguins officials said they have no reason to think that will change before the contract expires in 2009.

Bank of New York, by the way, will have the right-of-first-refusal on the naming rights to their current arena's replacement, if one is built.

LeClair proof that character reveals itself in adversity

John LeClair left the Penguins with the same dignity and class which with he comported himself throughout his season-plus with them.

He never uttered a critical syllable about anyone -- no matter how unhappy he was about cuts in ice time, or how much it stung him when coach Michel Therrien stripped him of his alternate captaincy last season -- and set a high standard of professionalism for less experienced teammates.

"He really helped a lot of the younger guys, made a good impression on us," said center Sidney Crosby, who got the "A" that was taken from LeClair. "We have a lot of respect for him, as a player and a person."

And not just because he was nearly as old as some of his teammates' parents.

Consider what happened earlier this fall, when Therrien decided he wanted to have Crosby and Mark Recchi serve as alternate captains for all games, but split the third "A" between LeClair and defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

That LeClair accepted one at all was a surprise, given the way his previous one had been taken away, but he didn't stop there. He suggested that he wear the "A" on the road, and that Gonchar have one for home games.

The reason: LeClair's family remained in suburban Philadelphia, but Gonchar has his wife and daughter here, and LeClair reasoned that seeing Gonchar with the "A" would make his family proud. And perhaps, as a result, cause him to elevate his game.

General manager Ray Shero, by the way, not only spoke of his respect for LeClair and all that he has accomplished in his career, but acted on it.

He did not compel LeClair -- whose minor-league experience consists of eight games in the 1991-92 season -- to join the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre once he cleared his initial round of waivers (let alone suspend him for not reporting) and put him on re-entry waivers as quickly as possible under the league's collective bargaining agreement.

LeClair was sent to the Baby Penguins again three days ago, and it's possible -- even likely -- that in the very near future, the Penguins will press LeClair to retire or report to Wilkes-Barre, because they continue to be liable for his $1.5 million salary. That isn't necessarily a prohibitive burden, but it isn't prudent for a team with limited resources to keep paying an employee who is voluntarily inactive.

The way Shero has dealt with LeClair not only speaks to how he feels about him, but could add a little luster to Shero's reputation in his first general manager's job. If so, that could only work to the Penguins' advantage in the future.

Treat players with respect and dignity, the way Shero has LeClair, and word will get around. Alone, it might not be enough to, say, convince a free agent to sign with the Penguins, but it's could be a tiebreaker for guys choosing between two or more teams they see as being roughly equal.

From the flightless bird: Don't tread on me

Great to see the Penguins join the long list of NHL teams that have implanted a logo on their locker-room floor, then threatened to fine any unfortunate soul who dares to step on it.

Just one question: If the Penguins -- or players for Ottawa or Tampa Bay or any other club that has made its crest part of the carpeting -- are so horrified by the thought of it being walked on, shouldn't it have been placed on a wall or ceiling instead of the floor?

The going rate for violators in the Penguins' dressing room, by the way, is $100. With luck, offenders who are on the team payroll but earn less than the league minimum for players will be allowed to make payments on an installment plan.



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