PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin doesn’t speak with reporters every day, but over the past couple of seasons when he does, he sounds every bit like the alternate captain and core player he is for the Penguins.
The star center held another honest, often upbeat session with those of us behind the cameras, microphones, and notebooks after practice Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena. There were some interesting comments. We thought we would bring it to you in full Geno mode, question-and-answer style.
Question: What are you trying to get out of practice before the playoffs start?
Answer: First of all, I think we try to rest a little bit. We have time for good practice, work on the power play, the (penalty kill), (defensive) zone. We need to work on our mistakes, what we do in the game. Yeah, I think it’s a great time for a little bit of rest and practice. We practiced today like we looked forward.
Q: How much are you looking forward to this game in Columbus on Thursday?
A: It’s a huge game for us, and Columbus, too. It’s probably (for) home-ice advantage – who wins, starts at home (in the playoffs). We understand (how) important the game is (because) we want to start at home. We play against Columbus, I don’t know, like, five times. It’s huge all the time. They’re a tough team. But I think we’re fine. We’re ready for the playoffs. We’re ready to play against any team.
Q: Are you disappointed in how the season has gone in general? Do you feel like you guys have played well enough going into the playoffs, or are you concerned at all?
A: No, I think we’re fine. It’s not perfect every season. Every time, we work hard. It’s a long season. The last two years we played so many games, and we still fight. We didn’t win a lot this year, but we’re still in. We understand it doesn’t matter what place. In the playoffs, it’s a new game. We’re happy we’re in the playoffs. Now we need to win (Thursday) and start at home. It doesn’t matter against who. It doesn’t matter what game. We need to win.
Q: What would winning three in a row mean for you and Sidney Crosby and the franchise players here?
A: It’s hard to think (about) right now, but, I mean, it’s huge. It’s huge to understand we have a great team. We understand it’s not just the team. It’s coaches, it’s the organization. Everyone here, it’s like, coming to practice, coming to this building. We work together. Everyone works to win. The last two years give us so much confidence. We understand we have to play like a great team. Time to win. Time to make history. It’s amazing. We understand it’s a great chance to win. But we need to focus on just the next game. We’re not looking (ahead to the) final. We look at the next game at Columbus, and after we’ll see what’s going on.
Q: Is getting mad at (Washington’s Evgeny) Kuznetsov a good thing, like intensity or is it a distraction to the game.
A: No, I think it’s good. It’s the last minute. It doesn’t matter. We already lost the game. I hate when you lost the game and you do nothing. Usually, it’s good to show to the team we’re upset we lost the game. We were ready to play, but we didn’t score on the power play. We had so many great chances to score, but we didn’t score. I think all the guys in the locker room were mad after the last game because we feel that we can win. This is fine – it’s a couple fights to show we’re ready to play against any team. We showed we’re together. It’s so huge. I see after the game, the coach in the locker room, we’re so together. We understand we have a great team, but we lost. It’s fine. We showed character.
Q: You said after the San Jose game in January that “it’s OK (because) we’re back in the playoffs for sure now.” What gave you that confidence?
A: For me, I will always believe in my team. I always believe in this group. I see these guys every day, and we’re still hungry. We talk a lot about this year, everyone is like, what’s going on. We lost a couple players. But we’re still great. We signed (Derick) Brassard. He’s helped so much. I hope he is back (from injury) for the playoffs. If we were not in the playoffs, I would be so mad for sure. You say, why did I say that two months ago? I’m happy we’re in. I believe in my group. We’ll see what happens in the playoffs, but we’re ready to play for sure.
Q: Do you allow yourself to think about the fact that you’ve never missed the playoffs? … Can you imagine what life would be like if you’re not playing hockey after April 15?
A: It’s hard to say. I agree. I don’t understand, like, three more days and you’re done. But it’s still different if you lose in the first round or you lose in the finals. First round is so quick. It’s OK, two more weeks and you’re done. We (would) not be happy with (that).