'Stanley Cup' on Malkin's mind

| Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010

Two words never got lost in translation for Penguins center Evgeni Malkin: Stanley Cup.

He spoke those words a lot to coach Dan Bylsma in July during their two days together in Moscow. He offered them again Friday when assessing what would qualify as a good season personally.

"Win Stanley Cup," he said, eyebrows arching, voice rising and teeth flashing through an open-mouthed grin — signs that Malkin is comfortable with the English words he has chosen.

Barring injury, nothing Malkin accomplishes in the first training-camp practice today at Consol Energy Center will resonate with Penguins fans if he doesn't make a mark in the new arena's first regular-season game Oct. 7. Even a hat trick against the rival Philadelphia Flyers might not be enough to silence critics who resurfaced last season for the first time since he finished the 2008 playoffs with two goals in the final 10 games.

He scored only one goal in the Penguins' final nine playoff games this past spring — a fitting follow-up to a regular season in which he notched career lows in games played (67), goals (28), assists (49), points (77) and plus/minus (-6).

Entering his fifth NHL season, Malkin can be forgiven for drawing a connection between individual and team success. Three years ago, his first 100-point season coincided with the Penguins' first division title in nine seasons. The next year, he was the regular-season scoring leader and playoff MVP for the Cup champion.

However, something Bylsma learned about Malkin last season, something close teammates such as forward Max Talbot have known about him for a while: If he places a premium on individual performance, he never says so — in any language.

"I keep getting smacked in the face with that by Geno," Bylsma said. "He thinks he had a bad season last year because we didn't win the Stanley Cup. And when you talk to him about future goals, it's always he wants to win Stanley Cups here in Pittsburgh. That's what he talks about.

"Players try to establish themselves, try to get to the next level or get to that next contract. Those are all things important to players. To have a guy who could win a scoring title or could be in the MVP race continually talk about winning Stanley Cups being important to him — it's unique. It's not ordinary. He's a Russian kid with (the option of going to Russia's Kontinental Hockey League) and Olympic medal (aspirations). Other things are important to him, but winning another Stanley Cup is the most important."

During his visit to Moscow, Bylsma approached Malkin about moving to wing and playing on a line with center Jordan Staal. Bylsma was somewhat surprised by the response — not just agreeable but enthusiastic.

Of course, Malkin is a player who has gleefully taken a supporting role to center Sidney Crosby, even though both share some big numbers, including scoring titles (one apiece) and annual salary ($8.7 million).

Crosby said criticism "comes with being in that position" — the superstar.

"But I don't think he pays attention to that too much," he said.

How about it, Geno?

"I know last year was not good for me," he said.

Only two words can make this year better.

Additional Information:

Big bounceback theory

Center Evgeni Malkin is one of four returning Penguins forwards to score fewer goals, record fewer points and register an even or worse plus/minus last season than the one before it. Injuries played a role:

Tyler Kennedy : 2 fewer goals, 10 fewer points, -5 in plus/minus from 2008-09; 18 games missed

Chris Kunitz : 10 fewer goals, 21 fewer points, -9 in plus/minus from 2008-09; 32 games missed

Evgeni Malkin : 7 fewer goals, 36 fewer points, -23 in plus/minus from 2008-09; 15 games missed

Max Talbot : 10 fewer goals, 15 fewer points, same plus/minus as 2008-09; 37 games missed

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