By Rob Rossi, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates his 50th goal of the season with teammate Sidney Crosby in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Pittsburgh Saturday, April 7, 2012. (AP)
Evgeni Malkin is an acknowledged cheater.
As a teenager, his mom said, Malkin would complain of a sore arm and quit tennis matches against his brother late in a decisive set when defeat seemed imminent.
Since joining teammates' card games on Penguins charter flights, he has bullied his way to wins. All is well if Malkin plays the proper hand, but somebody is at fault if he does not and teammates concede defeat rather than deal with his sharp jabs or sleight-of-hand deals, winger Matt Cooke said.
The surest sign of Malkin's willingness to put himself over, at least in the opinion of his dad, are the nights when he sabotages his girlfriend during games of Narde, a two-player board game similar to backgammon.
"If I lose, I hate everyone, everywhere," Malkin said Thursday night after he scored a goal and recorded an assist in a home win over the New York Rangers his sixth goal and eighth point in six games against the club with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
To be clear: Malkin is cool with cheating if it means not losing.
"Always," he said, flashing a grin, "and sometimes it's the same in hockey. You stay near the blueline, and the coach gets mad, but sometimes if you want to win you need a little bit to cheat."
This season has proven to be an ironic exception to that rule.
Malkin, 25 and in his seventh NHL campaign, won a second scoring title with 50 goals and 109 points and is the favorite to win the Hart Trophy (MVP) for which he twice has finished runner-up by refusing to cheat on a commitment to fitness he made about a year ago while rehabbing an injured right knee that forced him to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He has not skimped on the daily workouts that involve plyometric circuits, core compulsions, lung-burning cardio, kettle bells and traditional weights. What he started in July in Moscow with Penguins strength coach Mike Kadar continued through a postgame session Saturday.
Staying in supreme shape so that teammates could count on him to consistently produce not becoming only third Penguins player to lead the league in scoring more than once is what Malkin said he is most proud of this season.
That is a very Sidney Crosby-like thought, and it should not surprise anybody that Malkin expressed it.
"Geno is like Sid in the sense that he leads by example," Kadar said. "Also, if there is something in front of him, he wants to win at it.
"If you'd look at the stuff we did in the gym over the summer, it was always him wanting one more rep than the guy he was working with, but once we were done with the workouts, it was him back to being laid back and laughing. He's really funny in those spots, but when there is a competition, he gets serious. You can actually see the difference on his face.
"I think he knew he had to step up this season because we weren't sure about Sid's health."
Read more: Dedication paying off for Pens' Evgeni Malkin - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_790414.html#ixzz1rV9DYUYW