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Just How Quickly is Malkin Moving Toward Milestones?

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Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin battles for a loose puck
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 01: Washington Capitals Center Jay Beagle (83) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) battle for a face-off win during the second period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round in the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 1, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Evgeni Malkin was talking about speed after practice Friday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

About his admiration for Pittsburgh Penguins teammate and defenseman Kris Letang, who Malkin said gets faster and faster despite being on the far side of 30.

About the Montreal Canadiens, who visit PPG Paints Arena for a game Saturday night and who have bought in to the trend of going younger and speedier.

So is Malkin, 32, going with the flow and getting faster?

“No, no. Not me,” he said with a slight smile. “I try. I understand how important (it is in) the game right now. It’s a new game from the last 10 years, new faces, young players. They skate so much faster. We see the third line, fourth line, they play a fast game, too. The defensemen, not (many) big defensemen. They’re young and strong but they skate fast, too.

“I try to be faster every year. I try. I don’t know how fast I will be this year, but I’ll try to be better.”

It’s a better than fair guess that the Penguins won’t be looking to ditch Malkin – or, as Montreal did with veterans Tomas Plekanec and Karl Alzner in their opening 3-2 overtime loss to Toronto in its opener, make him a healthy scratch – anytime soon.

Malkin’s ability to get faster on the ice remains to be seen, but he is quickly approaching some nice round numbers in his career. He is 15 games away from 800, 29 goals away from 400, 38 assists away from 600 and – a real ding, ding, ding milestone – 67 points away from 1,000. All could be attainable this season.

Last season, the lanky Russian center finished fourth in the NHL with 98 points, including 42 goals.

Malkin started off strong enough this season, with a goal and two assists Thursday in the Penguins’ 7-6 overtime win against defending Stanley Cup champion Washington in the season and home opener.

He was quick to point out his turnover that led to one of T.J. Oshie’s goals as the Capitals came back in the third period to force overtime. “We had a couple mistakes. My mistake was huge; I need to play simple,” he said.

Given the growing trend of going with speed, perhaps there will be more of those high-scoring games.

“Probably,” Malkin said. “I hope we score seven goals but maybe not six against. Not every game will be 7-6, 8-5.”

That’s probably good. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan doesn’t want his club trading chances all game on a regular basis.

“We were pleased with the results of the (Capitals) game, but if we played that game 10 times over, we’d win five and lose five,” Sullivan said. “That’s not a formula for success.”

Probably not, but the offensive side of that formula is something that has spread through a lot of the NHL, perhaps because it has worked well enough for the Penguins that they won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and ’17.

Montreal has jumped on the bandwagon.

“They try to be a younger team,” Malkin said. “I watched (the Canadiens’ game against Toronto). They skate so fast. They’re young. They’re hungry.”

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Shelly is the newest columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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