Malkin on the lookout for a new winger and a Stanley Cup for Penguins
January 16, 2013 8:00 PM
Evgeni Malkin is getting reacquainted with his teammates, such as Kris Letang, and the North American style of hockey.
Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save in practice Tuesday at Consol Energy Center. After tonight's scrimmage, the team has just one more practice before opening the season Saturday.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Evgeni Malkin is the NHL's incumbent scoring champion and most valuable player.
It's safe to assume that more of the same would make for a pretty nice encore.
That's a lot to expect, of course, and there's no guarantee another player wouldn't outdo Malkin, even if he matches his brilliance from 2011-12.
But projecting him to be as productive offensively as he was then isn't necessarily unreasonable.
At least not according to Sidney Crosby who, coincidentally enough, might be the most viable threat to supplant Malkin as the league's top point-producer and MVP.
"Those are obviously high expectations, but he's proven he can do it," Crosby said after a training camp session Tuesday at Consol Energy Center. "You never want to put too much pressure on someone, but he's definitely capable of it.
"Whatever is his best, we'll take that. And I think we'll be fine."
Malkin, who put up 109 points in 75 games last season, is scheduled to have 40-goal man James Neal on his right side again when the regular season opens Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
Who will be on the other wing for that game will be one of the most intriguing story lines in the public scrimmage the Penguins will stage tonight at 7 at Consol Energy Center.
The top two contenders, Eric Tangradi and Beau Bennett, will be on the same team as Malkin and Neal, coach Dan Bylsma said, and both are scheduled to get playing time on that line.
"You'll see Eric play there," Bylsma said. "You probably will also see Beau play there."
There's no indication that the competition will be winner-take-all -- it seems unlikely that so much emphasis would be placed on a single mock game -- but meshing well with Malkin and Neal in the closest thing this training camp will have to real-game situations would be a huge plus for either player.
If Malkin, who spoke with reporters Tuesday for the first time since returning Sunday from Russia, has a preference for his left winger, he isn't letting on, although he did offer a positive assessment of Bennett after skating with him in drills.
"He's smart and has good skills," Malkin said.
Malkin was piling up points almost at will for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League when the NHL lockout ended. He was the league's No. 2 scorer with 23 goals and 42 assists in 37 games and virtually unstoppable over his final weeks there.
And, while he also has a pretty fair offensive resume on this side of the Atlantic -- 209 goals and 319 assists in 427 NHL regular-season games -- the North American game is different from the one in Europe. The playing surface is smaller, the contact more frequent and vigorous.
"Here, the short ice, there are lots of hits," Malkin said. "Coming back from Russia, you need a couple of games to change because the bigger ice, more [emphasis is placed on] skills. Not too much shooting. More passes."
Crosby has far less experience on the international ice surface than Malkin, but said he has found the transition back to NHL-regulation rinks to be less difficult than going the other way.
"I think it will probably be a little easier for him, just not having to cover that much ice," he said. "That will probably actually benefit him."
Malkin said he is completely healthy and, after playing for several months in the KHL, feels well-conditioned for the 48-game grind facing NHL clubs.
"My shape is good," he said. "I'm ready to play. No injury, nothing."
That wasn't the case the last time he reported to camp, back in September 2012.
Then, he was coming off major knee surgery that had forced him to sit out a hefty chunk of the regular season and all a first-round playoff series against Tampa Bay.
That operation didn't impede him much, if at all, last season, and Malkin ended up matched with a linemate, Neal, whose talents dovetail nicely with his own.
Everything, it seems, went about as well as he could have hoped. At least until the playoffs, when the Penguins finished a full 14 victories shy of the championship Malkin craved.
"I had a big [knee] injury and came back and played [well]," he said.
"We had a great line, but we didn't win the Stanley Cup.
"I want to win the Stanley Cup again. That's my target right now."
The Penguins will hold an intrasquad scrimmage at 7 p.m. at Consol Energy Center. It is free and open to the public.
• Game: Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, Wells Fargo Center.