PHILADELPHIA -- Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin isn't shy about throwing his body around, but seems to take particular delight in doing it when his target is Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins.
This occurs much of the time when the Penguins and Capitals share a slab of ice as they will tonight at Mellon Arena.
That certainly was the case in Washington's 4-3 victory there Oct. 16, when Ovechkin devoted most of the evening to stalking Malkin and launching his body at him.
"He's gotten run a couple times," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "I think [Ovechkin] made a few runs at [Malkin], and [Malkin] handled it the right way. [Malkin] is focused on playing. We shouldn't get caught up with that. We did a good job of not getting caught up in that last time."
There are conflicting stories about why Malkin and Ovechkin have had a friendly rivalry mutate into something so ferocious -- the most popular is that it stems from a scuffle between Ovechkin and one of Malkin's Russia-based agents a few years ago -- but precedent suggests Malkin would be wise to keep his head up this evening.
Although Malkin, at 6 feet 3, 195 pounds, is capable of absorbing some punishment, Crosby believes the Penguins can't hesitate to intervene if Ovechkin -- or any other opponent -- crosses the line.
"It's like you'd stick up for any other teammate," he said. "There's intense physical games and, as long as that's the way they stay and it's safe, then that's hard hockey. But, if there's deliberate intent to hurt someone, if you step outside the line a bit, then you have to make sure you stick up for your teammate."
Two left wingers had their job descriptions upgraded for the Penguins' game against Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center last night.
Matt Cooke was bumped up to the No. 1 line with Crosby and Malkin, while Chris Minard was grafted onto the second line with Jordan Staal and Petr Sykora.
Cooke had not been a first-liner since 2004, when he replaced the suspended Todd Bertuzzi on Vancouver's top unit with Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison, but said he planned no major adjustments in his game.
"I can't," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to do what makes you successful. What got you here and what keeps you here."
Minard is the No. 2 goal-scorer in the American Hockey League this season, with 26 in 31 games, but filled only blue-collar roles during his previous eight games with the Penguins.
He acknowledged that "everybody wants to play with two of the best players," and that scoring goals is tougher in the NHL.
"The spots where you can shoot the puck from, the open areas, close down a little quicker," he said. "You're not open for as long. Hopefully, I can do the job."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien said left winger Pascal Dupuis, who has missed three games in a row because of an undisclosed leg problem, will not play tonight. ??? Crosby and Ovechkin are among the five players chosen to participate in the breakaway challenge event at the All-Star skills competition in Montreal Jan. 24. The others are Alex Kovalev (Montreal), Patrick Kane (Chicago) and Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim). Ovechkin is the defending champion in the competition