PITTSBURGH -- If anything illustrates how well Evgeni Malkin's comeback is going, perhaps it's this: The Pittsburgh Penguins star is now on Twitter … in English.
Malkin is tweeting jokes, his insights into the Penguins -- even pictures, such as sideline shots from the South Florida-Pitt football game last week. He posts messages in his native Russian, but mostly they're in his newfound language -- one that Malkin was painfully shy to speak publicly until he had spent nearly three years in the NHL.
Here's one example from his account @malkin71_ -- on Sunday, a day off for the Penguins, he tweeted, "Off the whole day in bed ))))". Not long before, he sent good-luck wishes to the Steelers before their loss in Houston.
He also displayed his underappreciated sense of humor last week by tweeting that the recuperating Sidney Crosby must be cleared for contact because he collided with Malkin during a faceoff drill. ("Just jokes," Malkin tweeted later in explanation.)
Call this the new, comfortable, confident Malkin -- one who, if the NHL preseason is an indicator, appears very ready to resemble the Malkin of a couple of seasons ago.
SOG: 182 | +/-: -4
But Malkin's production inexplicably tailed off the last two seasons, with his point total dropping from 106 in 2007-08 and 113 the following season (plus 36 more during the playoffs) to 77 in 2009-10 and 37 in 43 games last season. That already disappointing 2010-11 season then ended prematurely when he tore two right knee ligaments while colliding the Sabres' Tyler Myers on Feb. 4.
The significant effort required to rehabilitate the knee following surgery reawakened Malkin to the fact he probably became a bit too complacent after the Penguins appeared in the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and 2009. During the short offseasons that followed those playoff runs, he had a built-in excuse to lighten his offseason workload-- or, using his own words, a reason to become lazy.
That all changed this summer, as Penguins strength coach Mike Kadar spent three weeks with Malkin in Russia, pushing him relentlessly through a program designed to accelerate his injury recovery time and stimulate his competitiveness.
"I have more motivation now," Malkin said. "I hope this is a better season. I had a great summer. I'm not going to change my game but maybe have more concentration."
No doubt the Penguins are eager to see more of the Malkin who scored 3 goals and had 4 assists while playing at a regular season-like intensity level during four preseason games.
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As Malkin explained, "I tried to play hard every game. I know if you start now, it's easier to play."
Especially since the Penguins are expecting the 25-year-old to carry them offensively until Crosby returns from the concussion that has sidelined him since early January. When the Penguins open the season Thursday night in Vancouver, Malkin is expected to play between Steve Sullivan and James Neal on the top line.
Sullivan, picked up from Nashville during the offseason, gained a newfound appreciation of Malkin's vast array of skills during camp.
"He is an absolute thrill to play with," Sullivan said. "I just have to make sure I don't get mesmerized out there by what he's doing."
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury warned that's not always easy to do, given Malkin's ability to singularly take over a game.
"I think everybody saw how well he played in the preseason," Fleury said. "He's hungry to get back at it and get some goals."
There's that word again, the same one used by Crosby: hungry. Coach Dan Bylsma used another: dominant.
"Of course I'm excited," said Malkin, who decided to tweet now that he's comfortable using English. "I haven't played for a long time and I'm ready. I played four preseason games and my knee and body are ready. We have a great team and I think we're ready."
Now that he's tweeting, Malkin also is displaying his serious side by sending multiple messages of encouragement to those who lost family members in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash Sept. 7 in Russia. Malkin also called the wives of some of the KHL players killed.
The Penguins and the Washington Capitals on Tuesday announced a cooperative effort to raise money for those family members. The teams will wear commemorative Lokomotiv patches when they play Oct. 13 in Pittsburgh, with the jerseys to be auctioned off at NHL.com. All proceeds will benefit the Lokomotiv players' families.
Malkin and fellow Russian star Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals will take part in a ceremonial faceoff.
"We're from Russia, we know those guys and played with some of those guys on the national team," said Malkin, who once played in the KHL. "We want to help the families because it's the same guys. … And I told them, 'If you need help, I'll always help you.' "