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Malkin confident in second finals trip

Penguins' center is league's leading scorer in playoffs

Thursday, 06.4.2009 / 1:24 PM ET / News
By Christy Hammond  - Community Relations Manager
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Malkin confident in second finals trip
PITTSBURGH -- The suffocating defensive trio of forward Henrik Zetterberg and defensemen Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom has limited Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby to one assist in three games. It’s an impressive feat when you consider that Crosby has posted 29 points in 20 games and Detroit held off the board for two consecutive games.

With Crosby tied up by Zetterberg, forward Evgeni Malkin has stepped up with five points this series, including a playmaker (three assists) in Game 3. Malkin struggled last year in the Stanley Cup Finals, registering a goal and an assist in the six games, but another year in the league has helped Malkin adjust to the demands on an NHL player.

“What I’ve seen this year is probably the confidence level,” teammate Sergei Gonchar said. “It’s his third year in the NHL, second year in the finals. I do believe his confidence level is higher.”

Gonchar has played an important role mentoring the 22-year-old forward. When Malkin arrived in August 2006, Gonchar took his fellow Russian under his wings. Malkin could not speak English so Gonchar invited him into his home and acted as his interpreter.

Even though Malkin moved into his own house earlier this season and his English has improved, Gonchar still provides support for the center on and off the ice. During the press conference following Wednesday’s optional practice, Malkin couldn’t find the word to fit what he was trying to say. Gonchar leaned over and whispered the word “space” to him, enabling Malkin to continue answering the reporter’s question.

“It’s a tough situation,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “There’s a lot of hurdles coming from his culture and being a young kid. But that’s who he is. That’s who Evgeni is. And he’s a fiery competitor. He’s passionate. He wants desperately to win.”

With the help of teammates and the understanding of his role on the team, Malkin has become more openly relaxed outside of the locker room.

“He is a funny guy,” veteran Bill Guerin said. “And it’s kind of obvious when he’s going to carve somebody because he goes right from English right into Russian, so you can’t understand it. But that’s one side that I don’t really think people understand. I think people think he’s kind of a quiet guy. But he’s got a great sense of humor to him.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock believes last year’s trip to the finals gave Malkin experience and an understanding of the demands and pressures of a long postseason, allowing Malkin to just focus on hockey this time around.

“I think he’s a big guy that can hang on to the puck,” said Babcock of Malkin’s skillset. “He comes from the neutral zone with some speed. Because of his reach and his size he can be hard to handle on the cycle. But I don’t think anybody’s really surprised. He’s one of the best players in the world.”

The Wings have noticed how Malkin is playing with a lot of confidence this year and the team faces a challenge trying to corral the star forward in the remainder of the series.

“Last year people were talking about him having a virus or whatever it was,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “This year, I think he’s just being himself. You can see it every time he’s on the ice, he’s a dangerous player and doing all the right things and we have to do a good job of just trying to stay on top of him and not give him too much room.”

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
5 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
11 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
12 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
D. Larkin 54 18 20 25 38
H. Zetterberg 55 10 28 5 38
T. Tatar 54 16 17 -1 33
G. Nyquist 55 14 16 -1 30
P. Datsyuk 40 9 21 14 30
J. Abdelkader 55 14 15 -2 29
M. Green 47 4 17 -7 21
N. Kronwall 45 3 14 -10 17
B. Richards 41 5 11 6 16
D. DeKeyser 51 7 8 12 15
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 21 10 5 .933 1.94
J. Howard 7 8 4 .904 2.89