PITTSBURGH — The sense of humor was always there.
Those in the Penguins organization saw it from Evgeni Malkin on a daily basis and they knew the charisma they saw in the locker room contrasted with the shy, reserved personality he had when the camera lights went on.
Maybe it was a matter of time as Malkin adapted to a second language and the humor translated things from Russian to English. Maybe the injuries he’s dealt with over the course of the last few seasons dampened his public persona a little bit. Regardless of the reason, even as he works his way back into the lineup – perhaps as soon as Friday night against the Rangers – Evgeni Malkin’s playful personality is playing out more in public this season.
“We’ve always heard that he had this great sense of humor but no one really ever got to see it because he didn’t feel comfortable with himself yet,” veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
Scuderi is one of five players in the Penguins’ locker room who were on the team during Malkin’s rookie season in 2006-07. Of those five, Scuderi has the unique perspective of leaving the Penguins locker room for four years, and he’s seen a slight change to Malkin’s personality.
“He’s a lot less shy,” Scuderi said. “It’s been kind of a pleasant surprise to see him out of his shell.”
The latest case of Geno being Geno involved linemate James Neal. Two days after crashing a James Neal television interview following an overtime goal against Carolina, Malkin struck again after Neal pulled off a hat trick against Columbus. This time, the prankster imitated the thousands of fans who had tossed their hats onto the ice after Neal’s third goal by doffing his cap and dropping it between Neal and the camera.
“I think he kind of picks his spots. He definitely has that inside him,” Sidney Crosby said. “I think you’re just seeing different parts of it here and there.”
As fun as playful Malkin is, Crosby and the Penguins are most eager for another part of Malkin to emerge again: The healthy side. As Crosby pointed out, it’s been a while since they’ve played an extended season together. Crosby has had a concussion and broken jaw, while Malkin’s dealt with knee and shoulder injuries.
“Honestly, it’d be nice if we could both be healthy for an extended period of time. When you look at it, I think really going back until the last Olympic year was the last year we were really both healthy,” Crosby said. “It’d be nice to get some consistency.”
Malkin’s latest injury came December 15 against the Red Wings, when he slid feet first into the boards and had to be helped off the ice with a left leg injury. He was in good spirits Thursday, playfully bantering with the media about Russia’s 5-3 win over the U.S. in the World Junior Championships. He’s still feeling a little bit of pain and weakness, but gets the sense he’s close to returning.
“Today was a good practice with the whole team, a little bit of the power play too,” Malkin said Thursday. “We’ll just see how I feel (Friday).”