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Malkin quietly in midst of big season for Penguins | TribLIVE.com
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Malkin quietly in midst of big season for Penguins

Thomas Olson
| Friday, January 6, 2017 8:27 p.m
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Montreal Canadiens' Phillip Danault (24) pokes the puck away from Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) with Daniel Carr (43) helping out on defense during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins celebrate Evgeni Malkin's game winning goal to beat the Canadiens in the overtime period Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 at PPG Paints Arena.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Devils' Jon Merrill defends on the Penguins Evgeni Malkin in the first period Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at PPG Paints Arena.

Evgeni Malkin’s jet-setting days might be over.

Oh, don’t get Malkin wrong. He didn’t sit on his couch and knit a sweater while the Penguins had a five-day break this week. He went to Miami.

It’s just that once he got there, he spent most of his time hanging out in the pool with 7-month-old son Nikita, not hitting South Florida’s trendiest hot spots.

Old age will do that to a man.

“No restaurants anymore. No going out. Stay at home,” Malkin said after the Penguins resumed their schedule with a practice at PPG Paints Arena on Friday afternoon. “But it’s good. I like it. It’s like, I’m 30 years old. I’m pretty old. I like it because my son’s started moving more. He has energy. Like, a lot. I’m not resting. I’m moving with him all day.”

If Malkin has lost some of his verve, whether because of age or chasing his son around, it sure hasn’t shown on the ice.

Malkin led all NHL players in December scoring with seven goals and 21 points in 15 games. He leads the Penguins with 43 points this season, two points off the league lead held by Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.

And Malkin has put up those numbers, somehow, in relative anonymity. Sidney Crosby has grabbed most of the headlines by leading the league with 26 goals. The resurrection of the career of Justin Schultz, who led NHL defenseman in scoring with 18 points in December, has been a great story. Malkin has just been chugging along, never going more than two consecutive games without a point.

“Geno’s been great,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s quietly had a dynamic year for us offensively. I think he’s as good an offensive threat as there is the league.”

The last play the Penguins made before going on their five-day bye week was a trademark Malkin goal — a power-play one-timer from the right faceoff circle that gave the team a 4-3 overtime victory over Montreal on Dec. 31.

The goal provided a glimpse into a reason why Malkin is putting up big numbers this season. The elbow injury that cost him the last 15 games of the regular season and the playoff opener last year is no longer causing problems.

“The elbow, I forget. I forget that,” Malkin said. “It’s not been sore, not been bad. It’s good because no brace anymore. This last year, it’s so hard playing with a brace, a big, huge brace. It’s amazing. No brace, nothing sore. I’m just excited to play.”

On top of that, Malkin changed his offseason workout routine to account for — sense a trend here? — his advancing age.

The results have been positive.

“Always if you work hard in summer, it helps you all season,” Malkin said. “I worked with (strength coach Andy O’Brien) a little bit. He gave me a program. I started working on my legs a little bit more. When you’re old, you have to play more with your legs. I feel pretty good.”

Physical fitness aside, Malkin can think of another reason for his strong first half of the season.

At the World Cup of Hockey in September, he had three points in four games as Russia went 2-2, bowing out of the tournament with a semifinal loss to Canada. Malkin wasn’t pleased with his performance and vowed to step up his game.

“After World Cup, I was a little bit (angry) with myself,” Malkin said. “I didn’t play great. I wasn’t back to my level. I know I can play better every game. I know I can play at my highest level.”

The numbers show Malkin seems to have made good on his promise.

Although, in a development that might be alarming for the rest of the contenders in the Eastern Conference, he said Friday he hasn’t quite reached his peak level of performance.

“Not yet,” Malkin said. “I think I can get more.”

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

Categories: Penguins
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