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In a word, Sullivan fits well with Malkin, Pens

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011
 

There is a reason Steve Sullivan has clicked with Evgeni Malkin in the Penguins' training camp, and it sure isn't that they're all chatty. Thus far, they're getting by with little more than smiles and nods.

"We're not talking much — not just yet," Sullivan said at his locker stall Friday with Malkin lacing up his skates within earshot. "Right now, honestly, we're trying to get to know each other, just seeing each other out on the rink and reading each other. That's the most important thing."

If it sounds like something's amiss, turn to this page of the Hockey 101 manual: Chemistry happens on the ice. That's why Sullivan, a 14-year NHL veteran the Penguins signed as a free agent, is treating camp as if it's Malkin 101. The two have been inseparable in practice — again yesterday at Southpointe — with one following the other, feeding the other.

"Players like that, you have to study," Sullivan said. "Geno's very dynamic, a huge talent. I'm just trying to figure out his tendencies, when he likes to shoot, where he likes to get the puck. Part of what makes him so good is that he's got a broad range of talent. He's very unpredictable. It's going to take time."

Sullivan's initial impression of his role?

"My strongest asset always has been skating, and I've got to be a threat with speed," he said. "If I can push the defense back, create some space for Geno, allow him to do his thing, I think it might work."

It already has clicked to coach Dan Bylsma's satisfaction, at least in scrimmages and drills. Sullivan missed both preseason games earlier this week with a strained groin.

"Sometimes what you see as chemistry, I see as a set play," Bylsma said. "These guys have chemistry."

Malkin sees it the same way.

"I always liked the way he played in Nashville," he said. "He likes to pass, and I like that because it's the Russian style. And I can learn from him because he has more experience."

With that, Malkin grinned at his playful jab at Sullivan's age.

Sullivan, 37, might no longer be the 60-point player he was during a half-decade each in Chicago and Nashville. His 5-foot-8 frame has taken enough of a beating that he topped 60 games just once in his final five seasons with the Predators. But he came about those 266 goals and 682 points honestly, showing exceptional speed and agility, a quick release and keen awareness of the ice.

There have been times when Sullivan was his team's main man, notably late in 2003-04 when Nashville acquired him for the stretch and he ripped off 30 points in 24 games. But his most productive seasons, he acknowledges, came in a supporting role. When the Predators made a splash the season after Sullivan's arrival by signing superstar Paul Kariya, Sullivan thrived on another line.

"Paul always took all the heat, so I was able to be a secondary threat," he said. "I liked that."

"There's pressure when you play with great players, and Steve has done that," general manager Ray Shero said. "Some players will just go out there thinking all they have to do is get them the puck, then not mess up anything else. A guy like Sullivan isn't going to be intimidated playing with anyone."

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