Penguins' Malkin emerging in more ways than one


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For a long time, people have been watching forward Evgeni Malkin and waiting. He finally is making it worth their while.

He is busting out all over with goals and guffaws, assists and antics.

It is a twofold spectacle as he suddenly has regained his elite touch on the ice, with five goals, three assists over the past three games, and has started to flash more of the personality those around him have promised was there behind the scenes.

"He wants to win real bad. He's passionate," linemate and former road roommate Max Talbot said after practice Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.

The problem was, Malkin has not been fully healthy for much of the time since he won the NHL scoring title with 113 points in 2008-09 and collected the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup at the end of that season.

He had a lingering shoulder problem, and perhaps other issues, last season, and has been bothered by a sore knee this season.

Malkin said at the start of this month that while he wanted to score more, adding that he was happy with his game overall and felt it was getting better. Then, he aggravated his knee in a Dec. 2 game against Atlanta.


Today

Game: Florida Panthers vs. Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, Radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.

Probable goaltenders: Marc Andre Fleury for the Penguins. Tomas Vokoun for the Panthers.

Penguins: Are 6-1 vs. Southeast Division. ... Led NHL in penalty killing (88.2 percent) before games Tuesday. ... Among best in league in goals allowed, 2.32 per game.

Panthers: Are 3-3 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Have worst road power play in NHL (8.1 percent). ... Are least-penalized club, eight minutes per game.

Of note: From the symmetry department, Penguins C Sidney Crosby has 21 goals and 21 assists in his 21-game points streak.


Since subsequently taking four games off to rest the knee, Malkin has been scorching the past three games. In addition to his eight points, he has 19 shots and a basketful of the highly skilled moves that pushed him to elite status over his first three NHL seasons.

Malkin tied a career high with five points Monday in a 6-1 win against Phoenix, and, afterward, teammate Sidney Crosby -- who extended his points streak to 21 games and leads the NHL with 57 points -- said he was just trying to keep up with Malkin.

"The game was going to a different level for him," coach Dan Bylsma said of Malkin. "To have Sidney Crosby shake his head a little bit and say, 'Wow,' is a unique thing."

With 30 points in 29 games going into a home game tonight against Florida, Malkin, 24, quickly has gotten back above a point-a-game pace, although he is not yet in the stratosphere he reached two seasons ago.

Along with the one-timers and wristers have come a stream of good-natured shots he has been taking at teammates, reporters and others off the ice.

"I've probably been telling you for a long time you're going to see [his personality] emerge, and we continue to see it all the time -- playing well or not playing well, injured or not injured," Bylsma said.

Sunday, while a couple of media types were interviewing winger Chris Kunitz about his chances of returning the next night after missing two games because of injury, Malkin interrupted from the next stall.

"He'll play. It's no secret," Malkin pronounced, and then continued to badger Kunitz to be forthcoming on his intention to play, noting that the team had lost the two games Kunitz missed after a 12-game winning streak, the same two games where Malkin started scoring again but couldn't lift his team to victory.

By the end of it, Kunitz was wearing a big smile and a crimson blush.

Told that Malkin was taking it upon himself to announce team news, Bylsma laughed.

"It's nice to see [Malkin] come out of his shell," Bylsma said. "Sometimes, you look for a guy to open up, and then you want him to shut his mouth afterward."

Kunitz figures the language barrier -- Malkin, who is Russian, for a long time was reluctant to speak English unless he was in a comfortable setting, such as around his teammates --likely led to those outside the team viewing Malkin as more reticent than he is.

"We enjoy playing with him, and we enjoy his character," Kunitz said. "Anytime [Malkin] is around, we know he likes to play jokes, likes to talk and 'chirp' guys just like anyone else."

The further unveiling of Malkin's personality could come in the next couple of episodes of HBO's "24/7" documentary involving the Penguins and Washington Capitals. He is drawing attention with his play, and Monday wore a microphone during a game for the first time.

"You're going to see that he's not so shy," Talbot said. "He's a smart guy, a funny guy. He's great to be around."

Malkin was asked if he is OK with his lighter side being exposed.

"Of course. It's not a big secret," he said. "I'm a good guy. I try to speak with my teammates, joke. It's a young team, and everyone like jokes."

Almost as much as they like goals and assists.


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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