Pens' Malkin earns early 'A'
STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- The first referee to miss a foul against Penguins center Evgeni Malkin this season can expect to receive more than an agitated stare.
For the first time in his NHL career, Malkin can verbally question calls (and non-calls) of all varieties. Coach Michel Therrien has awarded him an "A", making him the first in a monthly rotation of alternate captains, Malkin told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday.
"First month," Malkin said after practice at Globe Arena. "We'll rotate. But first month, it's me."
The Penguins already have stitched the letter to Malkin's regular-season sweaters.
Therrien did not confirm the decision, saying an announcement on Penguins' alternates would be made "this weekend." The Penguins open the regular season with games Saturday and Sunday against the Ottawa Senators.
Captains and alternates are the only players permitted to speak with referees, according to NHL rules. A goaltender cannot serve in either capacity.
The Penguins are down two alternate captains from last season. Left wing Ryan Malone, an alternate for much of the second half, departed as a free agent over the summer and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, a permanent alternate the past two seasons, is out until March with a dislocated left shoulder. He is scheduled for surgery today in Pittsburgh.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik would not say yesterday if he, too, has been designated an alternate. However, an informal survey of teammates suggests he would be a popular pick -- on a permanent basis.
"Brooks has become a great leader," defenseman Darryl Sydor said recently. "He and (Malone) were two of the guys that really stepped up last season. You could see it in the room and on the ice every day."
Orpik said last month "nobody would have a problem" with Malkin serving as an alternate, adding that he wouldn't need a letter to provide leadership.
"I don't really care, to be honest," Orpik said. "It doesn't change anything I do."
Therrien told the Tribune-Review on Sept. 20 he was considering making Malkin an alternate. He also confided that he "had an idea" on how to ease Malkin into an official leadership role.
"We know Malkin's potential," Therrien said. "Not only as a player ... but as a leader, too.
"He's a great candidate, and we're going to help him."
Malkin has expressed concern that his English -- he remains uncomfortable speaking the language to most reporters -- would hinder his ability to be an alternate captain.
But, as was the case last season when he picked up the scoring slack for injured center Sidney Crosby, Malkin has recently responded to Gonchar's absence by granting several group interviews without an interpreter.
"More with the leadership part of it, that's going to become natural to him - at least that's the direction we were heading in," general manager Ray Shero said Tuesday. "Off-ice, the English and all that stuff has really come a long way, away. He's really comfortable with his teammates.
"He's a huge part of this team on and off the ice."
Malkin, 22, signed a five-year extension worth $43.5 million over the summer, the same term and total on an extension inked by Crosby in July 2007.
A runner-up for MVP and in the scoring race last season, Malkin has been endorsed by Crosby, the team captain, as a potential alternate.
"He's a guy that we're going to depend on a lot," Crosby said last month. "If he's the guy that gets a responsibility like that, it's well-deserved.
"He's a guy that we're going to look to each and every night to bring a lot."