Maybe they really have made nice?
Reasonable are the doubters who believe Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin have only put aside their longstanding feud because Russia needs them to be good with one another so they can be great at the Olympics to be staged next month in Sochi.
Malkin has never denied that he would go above and beyond to win gold at these particular Games. Neither has Ovechkin.
However, these eyes have observed a few scenes that would indicate Malkin and Ovechkin are getting along better than at any point in an oft-tumultuous past.
About a half-hour after his Capitals were humbled at home by the Penguins in November, Ovechkin sent somebody to the opposing dressing room to pull out Malkin so they could chat. Malkin did not hesitate to go.
The Capitals were not humbled on Wednesday night, though they did blow a third-period lead in a 4-3 loss to the Penguins at Consol Energy Center.
Malkin, who set up Olli Maatta’s winning goal with about two minutes left, spent about 15 minutes after the game chatting up Russian-born/American-raised Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin.
(More on her here by our Jerry DiPaola: http://triblive.com/sports/nationworldsports/5410922-74/gymnastics-liukin-olympic#axzz2qX4ffJUr)
There was no indication that Malkin had any intention of halting his Russian chat with Liukin. Seriously, a gathering that included his teammates, coaches and bosses watched approvingly as he kept Liukin laughing.
These are the moments when one simply stays away and allows whatever will be to be.
Except that Dana Heinze, the Penguins head equipment manager, had a message:
Ovechkin was in the hallway outside the dressing room, and he wanted to talk before the Capitals boarded a charter bus.
Malkin cut off his conversation and headed to meet Ovechkin.
(Full disclosure: Liukin followed.)
This is, if nothing else, progress for the only Russians to go 1-2 in an NHL Entry Draft (2004).
Often entire seasons seemed to pass without pleasantries exchanged between Malkin and Ovechkin. Occasionally – OK, more than that – over Malkin’s first two seasons in the NHL, he and Ovechkin seemed intent on physically preventing one another from finishing Penguins-Capitals games.
All is good right now, Ovechkin said.
He might not be lying, either.
It was Ovechkin, back in November, who pulled me aside to ask how Malkin was doing during his season-opening slump. I had specifically pressed Ovechkin about that Malkin slump, and he had a message to deliver me away from a group of my fellow reporters.
“Tell Geno he will be fine,” Ovechkin said.
Relay that message I did, also telling Malkin that Ovechkin predicted Malkin would score two goals in that November game.
“Two?” Malkin said, his eyes widening.
“No, Alex (is) lying.”
A couple of weeks ago, Malkin confided that he expected to play on a line with Ovechkin at the Olympics. This was a new development, as previous Team Russian plans had those two on different five-man groups.
This conversation led to another one about Malkin’s post-slump surge – 9 goals, 20 assists in 17 games – and he did not hesitate to mention that Ovechkin, too, had slumped before ripping off what is now 57 goals in his past 68 games.
There have been times over the last eight years, whether we have talked for Trib articles or our book project, when Malkin would not mention Ovechkin’s name to me.
Malkin and I did not speak after this Penguins’ victory on Wednesday.
The good news, if you are and avid Russian hockey fan – or president Vladimir Putin – is that Malkin and I did not speak because he was having a long chat with Ovechkin.
And maybe Liukin, too.
Either way, Malkin probably chose wisely.
>> Ovechkin believes he and Malkin will be a “good” line in Sochi. Uh, ya think? http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5422820-74/ovechkin-malkin-olympics#axzz2qX4ffJUr
>> Josh Yohe said nothing was wrong with the Penguins that really Maattaed. GAMER: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5410932-74/maatta-penguins-capitals#axzz2qX4ffJUr
>> James Neal did not play against the Capitals, but he has time to heal before the Penguins’ next game: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5410940-74/penguins-sutter-wing#axzz2qX4ffJUr
Be EXCELLENT to each other,