MONTREAL -- Guy Carbonneau knows a bit about playing defense.
He was one of the best checking centers in recent NHL history and has three Selke Trophies to prove it.
He also has a few ideas about the best ways to limit the damage done by Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's leading scorer going into last night.
"He's a really good one-on-one player," said Carbonneau, the Montreal coach whose team faced the Penguins at the Bell Centre. "He likes to stickhandle through people and, obviously, the sooner you can get to him, before he gets his speed up, the better [off] you're going to be.
"You try to deny him the puck as much as possible. [The Penguins] are really looking for him in the offensive zone, so you have to be aware of where he is all the time."
No one familiar with Malkin is particularly surprised by the talent he has shown the past month or so. What wasn't known until Sidney Crosby was hurt was how Malkin would react to being thrust into the spotlight.
"He was in the background there for a while, but now that Sidney's not there, it's his time to shine," Carbonneau said. "And he hasn't missed his chance."
Canadiens winger Alex Kovalev has played with Malkin on several Russian national teams, and said Malkin has responded exactly as he anticipated.
"He's always been behind Crosby's back, and never had a chance to release his ability, to show his leadership," Kovalev said. "Now, he has that opportunity, and he's showing it."
Crosby, who got his high ankle sprain five weeks ago tonight, is scheduled to resume skating today, although it is not clear if he will do so on his own or as part of the Penguins' practice.
Team officials insist that Crosby being off skates for the past few days does not indicate his recovery has hit a snag -- "He's progressing really well," coach Michel Therrien said -- although some who believe his return could be pushed back to the 6-8 week time frame issued shortly after he was injured.
Crosby had said Sunday that he felt "it's possible" he could be back in uniform in less than six weeks.
Therrien would say only that "we don't know when he's going to come back yet, but he's getting closer and closer." He added that having Crosby stay off skates the past few days was "part of the rehab. You can't be on the ice and battling every day with that type of injury."
Carbonneau, meanwhile, believes Crosby's return will give the Penguins the kind of boost most teams can only dream of around the trade deadline.
"I think the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to have the best trade in the league when Crosby comes back," he said.
"They won't have to give up anything."
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain, will make at least one more start for the Penguins' minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre before returning to the NHL.
He is scheduled to be in goal when the Baby Penguins visit Syracuse tomorrow.
Fleury has played four games with the Baby Penguins on a conditioning assignment, compiling a 3-1 record with a 1.91 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.
Indications are that the Penguins plan to carry three goalies when Fleury returns.