Malkin shooting for much higher profile
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MONTREAL -- Evgeni Malkin has a Stanley Cup ring, an NHL scoring championship and a playoff MVP award. What he does not have, at least in parts of North America, is a public presence equal to his accomplishments.
Fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin got much of the attention in their draft year, and Malkin has been overshadowed by Sidney Crosby much of their time together with the Penguins, but it has gotten pretty tough to overlook Malkin lately.
While Ovechkin is having a lackluster season and Crosby has missed all but eight games because of a concussion and neck injury, Malkin entered the Penguins game against Montreal Tuesday night at the Bell Centre as the league's leading scorer. He also has been turning up in a lot of conversations about the top candidates for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the regular-season MVP.
While Malkin's place as one of the NHL's elite talents has been secure for quite a while; coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday Malkin might be ready for a higher profile.
"In terms of being out there, being with the media, having his face out there, it's a long way from where it was three years ago," he said. "There's a certain flair and personality with Evgeni that maybe you didn't see three years ago. Certainly, there is some flair there. There's a lot of personality. I think you're seeing more and more of that."
Of course, Malkin's productivity, not his personality, is most important to the Penguins.
"He's a great player and, certainly in the last month and a half, we've needed him to be great," Bylsma said. "He's carried the load in a lot of aspects for our team."
The Penguins have not offered information about the nature or severity of right winger Tyler Kennedy's injury.
Kennedy hobbled off the ice late in the third period of a 5-2 loss Sunday in New Jersey, and, subsequently, left the team to have his injury evaluated in Pittsburgh. Bylsma said if the Penguins did not have an update on Kennedy by Tuesday afternoon, which they obviously did not, word on his status could come today.
Center Cal O'Reilly appeared in his third game since the Penguins claimed him from Phoenix on re-entry waivers a week ago and still has not entirely settled in.
He said Tuesday, however, that he is getting acclimated to his new teammates and surroundings.
"I'm starting to get comfortable with the systems and the way we play here, the guys and the coaching staff," he said. "Every day, I get more comfortable, and the confidence is growing."
Losing Kennedy, who had played on a line with O'Reilly and Steve Sullivan, did not help.
"I thought we were playing pretty well, and we got better as the games went along," O'Reilly said. "But that's the way it goes sometimes."
Defenseman Kris Letang has not been eased back into the lineup since returning from the concussion that forced him to sit out 21 games.
He played 24:17 in his first game back, Jan. 19 at Madison Square Garden, and his workload has been consistently heavy since.
Here's a look at Letang's post-injury ice time heading into the game against Montreal at the Bell Centre:
Jan. 20, Montreal -- 28:18.
Jan. 22, Washington -- 27:09.
Jan. 24, at St. Louis -- 24:27.
Jan. 31, Toronto -- 24:41.
Feb. 1, at Toronto -- 25:00.
Feb. 4, at Boston -- 25:51.
Feb. 5, at New Jersey -- 22:19.
That's a lot of work, even for a guy who was averaging 26 minutes, 10 seconds before getting hurt Nov. 26 in Montreal.
Not that Letang seems to mind.
"When I said I was coming back, it was to play the same minutes I played before," he said recently. "I don't want to watch the [game]. I want to be in it.
Bylsma says he expects backup goalie Brent Johnson to play in "seven to 11" of the Penguins' remaining 28 games. ... Eighteen players participated in the Penguins' optional game-day skate.
First Published February 8, 2012 12:00 am