Penguins notebook: Evgeni Malkin encouraged to shoot puck more



His Penguins teammates have noticed Evgeni Malkin's playoff scoring drought of nine games, dating to a year ago.

They have offered him some simple advice to try to rectify that.

"We've definitely told him to shoot a little more. I know I have," said winger James Neal.

Malkin had 12 shots in the first three games of the Penguins' first-round playoff series against Columbus. He had none in Game 4, but came back with two shots, plus two more that were blocked, in a 3-1 Penguins win in Game 5.

Neal has as good a feel for Malkin's game as anyone. He usually plays on the right side of Malkin's line, although coach Dan Bylsma revamped his lines Saturday to get Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the same line.

"He definitely needs to be a little more selfish and shoot the puck," Neal said. "He's a pass-first guy -- and a great passer, at that -- but sometimes when you're not scoring or getting those chances, you need to focus on getting it to the net.

"He definitely did a better job of that [Saturday]. He still made great plays, but if you want to score, you've got to shoot the puck."

Russian influence

In 2003-04, the NHL had 60 players born and trained in the Soviet Union or Russia. A decade later, that number has declined considerably for a variety of reasons, chief among them the rise of Europe's Kontinental Hockey League. This season, only 28 Russians participated in an NHL game.

The Blue Jackets, a franchise which has gambled and lost on high-profile Russian stars such as Sergei Fedorov and Nikolai Zherdev, have four Russians on the roster. Each of them has had a hand in Columbus' success in recent seasons.

Fedor Tyutin, one of the few remaining holdovers from Columbus' only other playoff team in 2009, serves as a "big brother" of sorts to center Artem Anisimov, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman Nikita Nikitin.

"We call them the Russian Mafia," quipped Blue Jackets left winger Nick Foligno. "[Tyutin is] the godfather of the group. He has definitely kind of guided those guys along and been a big part of their [comfort] here. It says a lot about the type of guy he is."

"He's probably the translator, too," center Mark Letestu said. "I think he claims to be Canadian because he got his passport now. He's kind of the leader over there of the group on and off the ice.

Tyutin, a 10-year veteran, downplayed his role among his Russian teammates.

"I try to help them out just because I've been here a little longer," Tyutin said. "It's no real big deal. It's always good to have guys from your own country but at the same time, you have 25 great guys here. It doesn't really matter."

For Anisimov, having four Russians, each of whom played for their country in the Olympics, on the roster offers a bit of a support group.

"We can speak to each other," Anisimov said. "We can give each other an experience. Help each other out with problems. It's nice. It's comfortable."

Any concerns of the four Russians developing their own clique appear to be non-existent.

"Sometimes you get these Europeans who will separate themselves from the team," coach Todd Richards said. "But our guys aren't like that. The thing I like about our Russians is they fit in with this group. They're teammates."

"It's a big family here," Letestu said. "They're just the not-so-good-speaking-English part of the family."

Dining choices, however, can be another matter.

"You never want to get caught going to dinner with them," joked Folgino, "because you don't know what the hell is going on at the meal."

Faceoffs challenging

The Penguins have all sorts of names for their various set faceoff plays. Richards, a good friend of Bylsma, just calls them challenging.

"One of the things we always used to talk about was being unpredictable," Richards said of Bylsma.

"One area that Dan's done a really good job with his group is faceoffs. You're lining up, and they aren't predictable. You have to be on your toes. You've got to be aware of where guys are lined up and maybe what plays they're trying to run off of it."

There hasn't been a direct correlation to success on the draws. The Blue Jackets have won 51.7 percent of them.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.

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