Penguins' Malkin grasps training benefits
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Perhaps fans of Penguins center Evgeni Malkin should not have confused his eye-popping talent with some sort of innate sense of how to fully harness and nurture it.
As with English and North American culture, Malkin is still mastering the art of conditioning -- and he apparently has scaled a sharp learning curve this summer.
"I think this is my fifth year knowing Geno, and I have never seen him this committed to wanting to get better and get well," Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar said Thursday.
Kadar just returned from spending 17 days in Moscow overseeing Malkin's offseason workouts and rehabilitation from a knee injury. Malkin had surgery Feb. 10 to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He also rehabilitated a torn medial collateral ligament in the knee from the same hit by Buffalo's Tyler Myers.
The shortened season left the former NHL scoring champion and playoff MVP with 15 goals and 22 assists in 43 games.
Kadar believes Malkin will be in top form, maybe the best of his life, when training camp starts next month.
"There's a slight weakness in the right leg compared to the left," Kadar said. "We've addressed that. That was part of the reason I went over, to assess that."
Another reason was to put Malkin -- who suggested the visit -- through a rigorous training regimen.
"As soon as I landed, we worked out," Kadar said. "We did two-a-days at least five or six times a week -- lifting, swimming, plyometrics, on- and off-ice skill development.
"Just because he's a hockey player doesn't mean he knew how to work out properly. I think Geno has made the realization that to stay in the game, you've got to stay healthy. I'm not saying that if he was in unbelievable shape when his knee problem happened it might have been different, but he's learning."
Kadar said that despite "missing a few key things in my mind that would be hockey-specific," he liked the training center Malkin frequents in Moscow.
Along with a better awareness of training techniques, Malkin, who turned 25 Sunday, seems to have more drive than ever and probably will return to Pittsburgh earlier than usual.
"He wants to win," Kadar said. "I know he's excited to come back. He's committed to winning the [Stanley] Cup."
With the cultural tables turned, Kadar got a sense of the difficulty Malkin and other European hockey players face when they arrive in an NHL city without knowing the language or culture.
"It's extremely difficult," he said. "I give those guys a lot of credit, to be able to play and understand the game if you don't know the language and you can't communicate. You're lost."
Kadar said he was fortunate that Malkin and the family of former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar were gracious, taking him to Red Square, a Russian circus and a monastery where a monk guided them on a tour.
He also was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the restaurant food, other than the fact that most things were dolloped with sour cream. Very little was deep fried, the fruits and vegetables were fresh, and there was good sushi. One night, at a grand opening of a restaurant, they ran into Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.
It helped that Kadar had a full-time driver -- their mode of communication was an electronic tablet with a translation app that they passed back and forth at red lights -- because otherwise navigating the megalopolis would have been a challenge.
He called traffic on roads up to 10 lanes wide "organized chaos" and was flabbergasted that at times drivers stuck in gridlock simply left their cars to get coffee.
Malkin spends most of the offseason in Moscow, with visits to his family in his hometown of Magnitogorsk. Kadar believes that suits Malkin because he rarely gets recognized or bothered in Moscow -- although they did make it onto TV when they attended a soccer game.
Kadar is battling some jet lag, but, after his first trip to Russia he said, "I would most certainly go back."
First Published August 5, 2011 12:00 am