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Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin.

Associated Press

So this is what it's come to, only five days into the NHL lockout, monitoring in-game progress of KHL games online. Well, my justification is simple. It was the regular-season debuts for both Evgeni Malkin (with Metallurg Magnitogorsk) and Alex Ovechkin (with Dynamo Moscow).

Their returns are a big deal in Russia. Both played in the KHL's predecessor, the Superleague, but that was back in 2004-05 in Ovechkin's case and 2005-06 in Malkin's. They are, in short, conquering heroes, but even conquering heroes need time to get the rust off apparently.

Malkin's team, coached by Paul Maurice, formerly of the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs, lost in overtime on the road to Ufa. The good news was Malkin set up the tying goal in the final minute - by Enver Lisin, once a Phoenix Coyotes' prospect - but ultimately they lost to Ufa on Sergei Zinovyev's third goal of the night.

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Ovechkin appeared on the scoresheet too - an assist on Dynamo's sixth goal in an easy win over Minsk. Ufa sold out its game, and, according to the KHL, it had a lot to do with Malkin's presence (and Sergei Gonchar's) in the Magnitogorsk lineup. The two played together in Magnitogorsk during the last lockout; and it was Gonchar's presence in the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup that ultimately helped smooth Malkin's NHL transition during the latter's rookie year.

But maybe most newsworthy of all was the fact that KHL president Alexander Medvedev posted a message on the league's website, prior to the debuts of those two star players, stressing that his league was legally within its rights to import locked-out NHL players. Ovechkin created something of a furor the day before by saying he might stay in Russia if whatever new CBA emerges from this squabble contains a salary reduction. Medvedev's statement seemed designed to lessen the tension.

In his statement, Medvedev noted that once the lockout was implemented, members of the NHLPA "currently have no legal obligations to their employers." As a result, the KHL "in close observance of all the regulations governing player transfers set down by the International Ice Hockey Federation, completed the relevant transfer cards for representatives of the NHL and gave advance notice of an amendment to KHL regulations covering the signing of players currently under contract to NHL clubs."

Medvedev summed up by saying that as of Sept. 20 - or when Malkin, Ovechkin and the rest made their season debuts - NHL players are good to go.

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