Penguins Notebook: Russians getting ready for Vancouver

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The frames of reference are a bit different for center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, the two Penguins who were chosen Friday to be on the roster for the Russian Olympic team.

"I played for the first time in Torino [in 2006]. I had a great time. I'm ready," Malkin, 23, said last night after the team held an evening practice at Southpointe following a holiday break that began Wednesday at the end of its 8-2 victory against Ottawa.

Gonchar, 35, was a bit more reflective.

"I was a part of three Olympics already," he said. "I remember them all. It's one of those things you're probably going to remember forever.

"It's probably more special now. You appreciate it every single day that you're out there. You understand that there's not that many chances left."

Russia and Canada are considered the top contenders for the Games in February in Vancouver. Neither Gonchar nor Malkin has been on a gold-medal Olympic team.

"I'm pretty excited. We have a good team," Malkin said. "I haven't played for Russia for two years [since the 2007 world championships]. I miss my team."

If Russia and Canada meet for the gold-medal game, Gonchar and Malkin will be pitted against Penguins center Sidney Crosby and perhaps one or two other NHL teammates. Malkin would welcome that.

"I can't wait to a final with Canada and Russia," he said.

Malkin is sure he can keep his allegiances under control in the weeks before the Olympics, during the Games and then during the stretch run of the NHL season. He is more concerned about the physical rigors.

"It's a lot of games in a short time. We need to be ready," Malkin said. "After the tournament, we need to be ready to play with the Penguins. It will be hard. I want to try to help both teams."

Eaton returns to ice

Defenseman Mark Eaton practiced for the first time since being hurt Dec. 19 at Buffalo.

"It was good to get back out there on the ice again," said Eaton, who has an undisclosed injury believed to involve his left knee. "You never like to be out too long."

Coach Dan Bylsma didn't rule out Eaton playing tonight against Toronto at home.

"This was his first test," Bylsma said. "For him and for us, it's probably a disadvantage not being able to be on the ice the past few days to test it. We'll see how he responds and see how he is in the morning."

Battle wounds

Center Jordan Staal, who got a nasty gash on his nose Monday, switched from a full-face shield to a half visor. He has been instructed to wear the smaller protector for now.

He will decide whether to keep it attached to his helmet later. He discarded face protection when he moved from junior hockey to the NHL.

Staal remained in Pittsburgh during the break, but those back in his Thunder Bay, Ontario, hometown got to see the cut via a Web cam. "Everyone seemed to love it a lot," he said.

Tip ins

Bylsma, who is American, joked about trying to tire out the non-American Olympians on the Penguins' roster: "That would be something I wouldn't talk about doing, but I wouldn't be against." ... Bylsma oversaw some fairly grueling drills in the hour-long practice. "Speaking for myself, I had some food and some good times to get out [of my system]," he said. "[This was] the day where you're probably not going to feel great, but you've got to get some of the lead out of the legs. Hopefully, we did that." ... The Penguins stuck with the forward lines they used against Ottawa, with Malkin and Crosby skating with what had been each other's wingers. ... The Penguins will wear their blue third jerseys tonight.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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