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Training Camp

Upbeat Malkin talking good game for Penguins

Center jovial, entertaining with quest beginning for Stanley Cup three-peat

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Evgeni Malkin was in a good mood Saturday.

After scoring twice in a morning scrimmage, the 31-year-old center held his first media session during Pittsburgh Penguins training camp. He smiled when asked if he missed speaking with local reporters.

Malkin then held court for nearly eight minutes.

"I'm excited to be back on the ice and see the new faces in the room, you know?" Malkin said. "See my old friends here. It's good to be back. It's my second hometown."

The normally reserved Penguins center rarely speaks. When he does, it almost always entertains, but for no more than a few minutes.

Saturday was different. Malkin was willing to joke about everything from linemate Phil Kessel's new hairstyle ("I like it so much better. … He looks amazing") to his own "genetic" basketball skills.

Tweet from @malkin71_: Ball time ������

The mood might change when the regular season starts. For now, Malkin is basking in the Penguins' prospects of winning the Stanley Cup for a third straight season, which would be the longest run of success in the NHL since the New York Islanders won four consecutive Cup titles from 1980-83.

"We understand how to win," Malkin said. "It doesn't matter which team we have. We win in 2009, it's a different team; 2016 and 2017 [were] pretty much the same team. But we understand that we need to work every day, try to support each other."

Malkin was even jovial discussing his recent run of injuries, including an upper-body injury that kept him out of the final 13 regular-season games in 2016-17. The explanation Malkin provided for his apparent lack of luck sounded simple enough.

"I'm old," he said.

Like defenseman Kris Letang, who is returning from season-ending neck surgery, Malkin doesn't plan to overhaul his style in order to avoid injury. He does realize he needs to be more careful if he wants to play 82 games for the first time since 2008-09.

"I need to protect my body," Malkin said. "When you play, it's just automatic. You go to the corner. You don't think too much. You just play. Sometimes it's a little bit of [bad] luck. Your skate gets stuck in the boards. You fall down and crash your head. … We know what injuries are like. We've had lots of them."

The Penguins traded for physical forward Ryan Reaves during the offseason to help protect Malkin and center Sidney Crosby, who was concussed twice last season. But Malkin said he never has felt vulnerable, despite missing 45 games over the past two seasons.

"I can protect myself," Malkin said. "I'm ready to play a hard game against [the Philadelphia Flyers] or Columbus [Blue Jackets]."

Malkin returned from his upper-body injury to lead the Penguins with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It's understandable he would exude confidence entering this season. In fact, Malkin was confident enough to suggest Penguins coach Mike Sullivan should adjust his practice schedule.

"Maybe short practices and a little more rest," Malkin said. "Coach will change a little bit maybe, I don't know. Maybe like a couple days off."

That likely won't happen. Malkin did make a strong case, though.

"I think we're OK," Malkin said. "We understand how fun it is to be a champion."

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