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Sochi 2014

Crosby, Malkin will be bitter rivals who figure prominently in their team’s hockey fortunes Add to ...

In Russia, Malkin will face Crosby-like pressure to perform.

“I know there’s pressure,” Malkin said, “but it’s good pressure because we have a great team and we have the chance to win. I’m not into newspapers and I [don’t] read the Internet at all. I just focus on my game and enjoy my partners, enjoy the team.”

“It’s his home country and they want to bring home gold on their home ice,” Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi added. “But he’s not the type of personality to feel the weight of expectation. He’s got a good head on his shoulders.

“There’s always a fine line between playing with desperation and being panicked – and I think for a lot of the guys here, especially for the guys who’ve won, you find a way to toe that line, to play desperately without playing panicked or selfishly. He’ll have to find that within himself.”

Scuderi is in a unique position to evaluate Malkin’s development – on and off the ice – because he was with the Pens when they won the Cup in 2009, then joined the Los Angeles Kings for four years, won another Cup, and is back now playing in Pittsburgh.

“Hockey-wise, he hasn’t changed much,” Scuderi said, “but he has grown a lot in terms of being a bigger presence in the room. … It takes a little while [for foreign players] to come around and everybody understands that – he had to learn a new language and it was a big life change for him when he first came over. It’s nice to see his personality coming out – because he has a good one.”

On the Russian Olympic team, the expectation is Malkin will play on a line with Nikolai Kulemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a former teammate in Magnitogorsk, plus Ovechkin.

Neal didn’t make the Canadian Olympic team, but noted Malkin’s attributes are evident for all to see. “He’s such a big guy and he’s so strong and powerful. He’d be definitely hard to defend. You can’t give him too much space or he’ll make you pay.”

Crosby: The complete player

As a GM, Shero is blessed with having two superstars to rely on. It’s forced him to juggle the Penguins payroll over the years to keep both happy, but neither Crosby nor Malkin has made any extreme contract demands – and so Shero has been able to build a quality supporting cast that year after year challenges for top spot in the Eastern Conference, even though both players have had their injury issues.

“It’s been amazing when one or the other has been out, we’ve been able to play over a .600 clip,” Shero said. “Whenever you have a Malkin or a Crosby, you have a chance to win every night and we’ve been able to take advantage of that.”

Off the ice, Crosby has been the undeniable face of the NHL.

“He’s asked to do a lot and he does do a lot,” Shero said, “whether it’s here with you guys [reporters], or at the hotel beforehand, in the dining room, where we’re having breakfast. I’m at my table and I hear people whispering, ‘That’s Sidney Crosby.’ They’re texting their family and their friends that he’s here. He gets up and he’s very accommodating to people. That’s what he is – a caring kid. … “There’s not a lot hidden there. It’s almost like the old days with Wayne Gretzky. He’s good with people. We’re fortunate as a team because obviously, the requests we have, if we had a more difficult athlete or a less caring athlete, it would be a lot different. Not much push back. It’s very easy for us.”

Four years after scoring the “Golden Goal” for Canada to beat the United States in Vancouver, in a year when he has managed to stay healthy, could Crosby actually be getting better?

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