New-look Penguins get All-Star Malkin's approval

| Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, 9:51 p.m.

Evgeni Malkin is worried that one of his linemates is going to play shoddy defense.

Not Saturday night in Montreal. Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist, his linemates with the Penguins, aren't exactly known as shutdown forwards, but they give an honest defensive effort. Malkin's not worried about them.

He is more concerned with how things will play out when he's on the ice with Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, the captain of the Metropolitan Division squad, in the All-Star Game at the end of this month in Nashville, Tenn.

“We need to talk before the game about how we play,” Malkin said, trying to contain a grin. “Because (of) how Ovy (does) not backcheck, it's hard. If he only stays at the blue line, it'll be hard.”

Malkin was having some fun at the expense of Ovechkin, his longtime rival and friend, as he spoke on a range of topics after practice Friday morning in Cranberry.

Malkin found out Wednesday afternoon he had been selected for the All-Star Game. It's his sixth selection, but it's not something he takes for granted.

“It's hard (to make the All-Star team). It's hard, always,” Malkin said. “It's a good time with friends, see a couple Russian players, Ovy, (Vladimir) Tarasenko. It's a good time. I know Nashville's a pretty good city. A couple good restaurants. It's exciting.”

Before he plays for the Metropolitan Division, of course, Malkin has some business to attend to with the Penguins.

Malkin said he has seen some fairly significant changes in the way the team has played since coach Mike Sullivan took over, and in general, he likes what he sees.

“We understand what he wants,” Malkin said. “He's a really, really smart guy. He pushes us, because we don't do it right sometimes, but we work together. There are lots of meetings, lots of individual meetings. I like it. After the new year, I think we're a tight group. We've worked hard the last two weeks in practice and games.”

Malkin described what his individual meetings with Sullivan have been like.

“He shows me my mistakes,” Malkin said. “It's a little bit routine, but it's important he shows me my mistakes and I understand what to do next game.”

In his meetings with players over the past two days, Sullivan has had plenty of opportunities to point out mistakes. That's because the team, coming off a solid 4-1-2 stretch, was beaten badly in a 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.

Malkin said the Penguins could learn a thing or two from what happened to them in Chicago.

“How to control the puck,” Malkin said. “They controlled the puck all game. If they lose games or win games, they always control the puck. It doesn't matter if it's ‘D' zone, neutral zone or offensive zone, they always play with the puck. It's hard to beat guys who control the puck. If we control the puck, Sid and me, we play better.”

Malkin pointed out one other area the Penguins need to improve before Saturday night's game in Montreal.

After being outshot 15-3 in the first period in Chicago, they need to get off to a better start.

“What's important for our team is the first 20 minutes,” Malkin said. “The last two games, the first 20 minutes we were not great. We know it's a big crowd, a huge building. We have to focus for the first 20 minutes. After that, I think we're a good team. We know how to play.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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