WASHINGTON -- A few hours before he was named the NHL's top rookie last June, Washington left winger Alexander Ovechkin flatly predicted that Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins would succeed him as the Calder Trophy winner.
That's looking like a pretty good call at this point -- Malkin is widely regarded as the front-runner to be chosen the league's best first-year player, although Colorado's Paul Stastny had made it a race and a few others, including Penguins center Jordan Staal, will get support in the voting -- and Ovechkin said yesterday that nothing has happened to change his mind.
"For sure [Malkin will win]," Ovechkin said. "Stastny is good, but Malkin is more deserving."
Ovechkin, meanwhile, has not exactly suffered from a sophomore jinx. He has 43 goals and a decent shot at reaching 50 again, although he seems to be keeping his personal production in perspective.
"It would be good if I score 50 goals for the second year, but, if I don't, I'll have scored 40 goals this year," he said. "That's a pretty good result, I think."
Not quite like Capitals
The Capitals enraged a lot of Penguins fans in 2001 when they refused to sell playoff tickets to people living in the 412 and 724 area codes.
Not surprisingly, then, a number of Penguins fans who reside outside Western Pennsylvania were surprised and unhappy Monday when their attempts to purchase tickets for Games 1 and 2 of this spring's playoffs at Mellon Arena were rebuffed.
That was no accident, team vice president of communications Tom McMillan said, but neither was it an attempt to prevent an opposing team's fans from securing seats, as Washington's decision had been.
The goal, he said, was to keep tickets out of the hands of ticket brokers and others inclined to purchase as many tickets as possible, then resell them at inflated prices.
"It has nothing to do with what the Caps did," McMillan said. "It had everything to do with eBay and ticket brokers around the country."
Officials of the Penguins and Ticketmaster devised a zip code-based plan under which people within roughly a 120-mile radius of Pittsburgh -- where "the vast, vast majority of our fans live," McMillan said -- were allowed to purchase tickets while those outside that area had their attempts rejected.
"There's no perfect system," McMillan said.
"But we wanted to err on the side of protecting our local and regional fans."
Talk about improvement
With their win last night, the Penguins became the sixth club in NHL history to post at least a 40-point improvement over the previous season's point total.
The top single-season improvements in league history include San Jose, 1992-93 to 1993-94, 58 points; Quebec, 1991-92 to 1992-93, 52; Winnipeg, 1980-81 to 1981-82, 48; New York Islanders, 2000-01 to 2001-02, 44; and Boston, 1966-67 to 1967-68, 40.
Capitals have big plans for Swede
The Capitals are negotiating to bring Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom, their No. 1 draft choice in 2006, to the NHL next season.
When Backstrom arrives, he shouldn't have trouble keeping busy, based on the way Capitals coach Glen Hanlon discussed him yesterday.
"The way we look at him and the way we're hoping and wishing that he's here, anything less than the Hart Trophy [as league MVP] next year is going to be a bad year," Hanlon said, laughing.
"In our minds, he's got the Art Ross [most points], he's got the Rocket Richard [most goals], he's going to be the second-line center, he's killing penalties, he's on the first group on the power play. ... We're hoping all that will get him the Hart Trophy. If not, we're going to have to go to Plan B."
Washington managed just 10 shots on goal during a 4-3 loss to Carolina at the RBC Center Thursday, but that wasn't close to the Capitals' all-time low. They got seven during a 4-1 loss in Philadelphia Feb. 12, 1978. ... Capitals utilityman Ben Clymer will miss the rest of the season because of surgery to repair a sports hernia. ... USA Hockey's national team advisory group, which includes Penguins general manager Ray Shero, chose former Bruins coach Mike Sullivan to coach Team USA in this spring's world championships. One-time Penguins assistant Barry Smith will be associate head coach and David Quinn will be an assistant.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Evgeni Malkin is widely regarded as the front-runner to be named NHL rookie of the year.
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