“Hi, I’ve been informed you are the s—, my knowledge about the game of hockey is premature at best but your name keeps ringing,” NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco tweeted this week to @malkin71_, the twitter account of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ leading scorer.
We’d like to think Ochocinco is the last to learn that Evgeni Malkin is the s—, but we’re not entirely sure there aren’t others out there walking around uninformed.
Although Malkin is gunning for the NHL scoring crown and has led the Penguins to the second-best record in the East, his team’s other star centre, Sidney Crosby, remains the focal point despite playing a total of eight games since January 2011.
On Friday morning, nhl.com streamed a live feed of the Penguins’ morning skate; the camera was fixed on No. 87 even when Crosby stood resting his chin on the butt end of his stick, waiting for his turn to run the drill. Conversely, the last time Malkin was in Toronto, the centre of the hockey media universe, a “scrum” of three reporters waited long enough for his 6’3″, 205-pound frame to emerge from the visitors’ dressing room and coax a few broken-English sound bites.
But if the improvement of 71’s game is fine print to the “Crosby Undecided About Sunday” headlines, then the improvement of Malkin’s English is merely a footnote.
“My English is a bit better. I can talk to my teammates, same with my coach between periods and after games,” explains the Russian, whose response tweet to @ochocino (“thanks”) was one of only a handful of English messages you’ll read on his Twitter feed.
Though the 25-year-old is deep into his sixth NHL season, he explains that through his improved comprehension of the language, this year he has been benefitting from the team meetings. Malkin says he can now grasp what he does “not right” when the Penguins’ staff goes over the X’s and O’s, and he has seen his plus/minus, which dipped into the red the previous two seasons, jump to a +11.
“Right now, Malkin is the one,” Vancouver Canucks star Henrik Sedin says when asked who the best player in the NHL is. Out on the West Coast, the Sedin twins find themselves frequently catching Penguins games at 4 p.m. PT. “Pittsburgh is the team we like to watch. They’re a good team. We watch Malkin quite a bit. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got a great shot, he makes the players around him better. He’s the whole package.”
Because you’re not (yet) going to get lengthy, nuanced anecdotes from a player who is arguably the NHL’s best right now, we ran Malkin’s quotes through our translator. Here’s what the Geno3000 spat out.
“I have great summer, work hard.”
Translation: When my collision with Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers on Feb. 4, 2011, resulted in a torn ACL, a knee operation and a season cut short to just 43 games, I flew back to Russia and devoted my off-season to intense training in order to be ready for training camp.
Watch: Malkin returns to Russia last summer to train
“I’m hungry because I missed lots of games, not two or three games. I missed 50 games. Of course, I’m hungry to play hockey.”
Translation: Not only did I miss half of the 2010-11 regular season, but I also missed the playoffs. If you recall, even though I’ve had two 100-point seasons, the postseason is where I shine. In 2009, it was me who won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the playoff scoring title when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. So, of course I was eager to prove myself this year, especially after scoring less than a point per game in 2010-11 (37 points in 43 games) — the only season I’ve done that.
“I have great linemates now. Kunitz and Nealsy are the best linemates I’ve had in my career. They help me a lot. We try to play 100% every game.”
Translation: Centering Chris Kunitz and James Neal, we have formed the NHL’s most dangerous offensive line. Combined, we have scored 87 goals for this team. Playing on my wing, Neal made the All-Star Game for the first time in his career. And 32-year-old Kunitz hasn’t put up numbers like this since he was in his mid-20s and playing with the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
“(With Crosby out) maybe I play a bit more time, a bit more power-play time, and I understand I have to play better. If we not score, it’s tough to win.”
Translation: We are enjoying a seven-game winning streak because we are scoring so much. As of Friday, my 81 points are right on the tail of Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos’s 82, even though I’ve played eight fewer games than Stamkos, and fewer games than anyone on the NHL leaderboard’s top 20. To make winning easier, sometimes I score in bunches. On three separate occasions this season I have scored five points in one game. It’s easier to win that way. Oh, and I also scored what could go down as the goal of the year:
“The season’s not over, but we’ll see where we are after 82 games.”
Translation: Despite missing three of our best players — Kris Letang, Jordan Staal, and Crosby — for long stretches this season, our team has still amassed the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. We just passed the champion Boston Bruins and are now looking to dethrone the New York Rangers atop the Atlantic Division. (You know we play in the toughest division in the NHL, right?) Just imagine how dangerous we’ll be once Sid gets back.
“Whole Pittsburgh organization, we work towards one thing: to win Stanley Cup…. I know we can do it. We can win the Stanley Cup. I believe in my teammates, and they believe we can win…. I have great confidence now.”
Translation: Look out.