‘I always think about Cups’ – Rejuvenated Malkin leads Pens

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PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin is already thinking about the future, the one where the hockey star in the family isn’t the four-time All-Star forward for the Pittsburgh Penguins but his 4-year-old son, Nikita.

The younger Malkin certainly seems to be on his way. The elder Malkin posted a picture on Instagram this week with Nikita decked out in full Penguins gear. Spending an extended amount of time with Nikita during the three-month pause to the NHL season created by the COVID-19 pandemic gave Malkin an appreciation for the energy it takes to wrangle a preschooler.

“He spends so much energy every day,” Malkin said Tuesday.

Like father, like son.

While many of his teammates are still trying to find their footing during training camp as they prepare for a playoff meeting with Montreal early next month, the 33-year-old Malkin is already at full speed.

“You guys can see it when you watch in practice every day,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “The level of intensity … it’s contagious throughout our team. All of our leaders have brought that … but Geno has set the standard as far as bringing his work ethic to the rink every day.”

Pittsburgh has needed it, particularly with captain Sidney Crosby currently out due to an undisclosed injury. The three-time MVP left an intrasquad scrimmage over the weekend. He missed practice Sunday and sat out a scrimmage on Monday. Sullivan, citing the NHL’s privacy policy, has declined to offer any details on Crosby’s status, making Malkin’s energetic play all the more valuable.

Malkin helped carry the Penguins during Crosby’s extended absence last fall following surgery to repair a sports hernia and was leading the team in points (74) by a wide margin when the league shut down in mid-March. He spent most of the “pause” in Miami with his wife and family, trying to stick to his summer workout regiment while adding more inline skating to the mix with the local ice rinks shut down.

Yes, he’s plenty fresh following the layoff. Yet there is another layer of urgency that’s helped Malkin quickly re-engage. Sure, the pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup is ever-present in his mind. There’s also an appreciation for the game that might have gotten lost in recent years. He can’t remember the last time he went so long without playing. It wasn’t fun.

“I always think about Cups for sure but I’m glad to back for ice,” Malkin said. “It’s my … it’s what I do all my life. It’s a new reality right now it’s not easy for everyone and we understand how important this year for each player. Like, we try (to) do everything back and play playoffs. It doesn’t matter. No fans, it’s hard but it’s still like, we love the game.”

Malkin believes the Penguins are taking the right steps in ramping up the intensity to get ready for what awaits in Toronto next month. The first scrimmage was a sloppy 7-0 domination by one side in which Pittsburgh starting goaltender Matt Murray struggled. He was better on Monday, and so was the intensity.

“We played hard, we try to play like real game, couple hits, blocking shots,” Malkin said. “You know practice is not real game but we try to be close. I like what I see.”

Maybe, but time is running out. At least reinforcements are on the way. Nine players who had been held out due to health protocols were cleared to return on Monday. Sullivan held the group out of the scrimmage, preferring to give them a chance to get some practice reps in before going all out. Their return, a group that includes veteran forward Patric Hornqvist, led the team to add a scrimmage next Saturday. The team leaves for Canada the following day.

“It’s what we think is best for the players and what the team needs,” Sullivan said.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.