Puck Daddy chats with Penguins' Evgeni Malkin about Ovechkin hit, HBO '24/7', the Winter Classic and the holidays

Evgeni Malkin(notes) is playing his best hockey of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, with 10 points in his last five games. He had an assist and nearly scored on a penalty shot last night against the Washington Capitals.

That's on the ice. Off the ice, fans are seeing a different side of Geno via HBO's "24/7" series, including how his teammates interact with him (like Pascal Dupuis'(notes) profane greeting to him in the first episode).

I spoke with Geno Thursday night about the HBO series, the rivalry with the Capitals, his health, the Winter Classic, the holidays and Sidney Crosby's(notes) season.

Q. There is always a lot of hype surrounding games between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. But I can't remember one game between the teams that actually disappointed.

Yes, you're right. Our games are always interesting and this one wasn't an exception. I am sure fans loved this one. It was very intense. Although there were a lot of penalties; the Capitals had a couple of 5-on-3 chances, but we had a lot of opportunities at even strength. Both goaltenders played really well and didn't disappoint. The overtime, the shootout - fans must have loved this game!

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In the very beginning of the game Alex Ovechkin(notes) put a hit on you. Just like good old times when you were feuding.

[Smiling] I was lucky that it was only my shoulder. I couldn't see Alex coming because I was battling against another player, trying to get away from him. I was just coming from around the net and Alex came down hard on me. Once again, lucky for me it was just my shoulder.

Did you feel it was just a game moment? A lot of people, I am sure, will start saying that there must be some bad blood between you two again.

Yes, I think so. I think Alex tried to fire up the crowd. And the crowd got really lively right away. Maybe they were a bit sleepy before the hit. I think I should have expected something like that. Maybe I just forgot the kind of a "machine" he is and that his hits are an every shift occurrence.

I think both teams realized after that that it was time to score some goals after that. We, the Penguins, came here to win. So it was a wake-up call for us too that it was time to go ahead. It's great that it happened in the beginning of the game. And it's great, I think, that we were able to score first.

How have you been feeling lately? Have you fully recovered from your injury? The last few games showed you're back to what you do best.

Of course I feel better. I also feel a lot more confident skating now that my knee hasn't let me down. That injury came at a bad time. But I had some days off, there will be a couple of days off now ahead of us, which is good for me. I can't say that I feel 100 percent healthy, but I am at about 90percent now, which makes me really happy. I am very happy about my game tonight: I felt a lot more confident playing around the boards, some close battles. Of course, there is always something to work on. But I am quite happy now.

There have been some experiments with you playing center, then on the wing. What position are you more comfortable in?

Of course I am more comfortable as a center. And tonight we were shorthanded a lot, which gave a lot of playing time at center. I don't kill penalties, I just sit on the bench. And then Sid, who also doesn't kill penalties, and I come out together because Dupuis, who plays on the wing with Sid, gets tired after playing shorthanded, and I play on the wing.

You always say that you love playing with Sid on the same line. How easy is it to play with him?

Of course it's easy. We understand each other like no other. He can keep the puck so well, we pass to each other knowing where we are. Tonight we spent a lot of time on the power play in the Capitals' zone, because we ‘feel' each other, we open up and know how to keep the puck in certain moments. Max Talbot(notes) and [Matt] Cooke try to play a little simpler, but Sid is a lot more confident as a player. He can always give a great pass. Of course it's so easy to play with him.

The most common criticism about your play at center is that you can be a liability on face-offs.

Of course I heard, it was the case. But I work a lot on my face offs at practice and now I win a lot of them. We played against Phoenix not long ago and we even scored off of a face off. I work on it a lot. I think my stats are now a lot better than what they were last year. Sometimes, when it doesn't come out right, I switch places with Talbot who takes face offs. Unfortunately, [faceoffs] don't always come out right.

Sid and I work together at practices, we all learn a lot from him. You look at the way he works on his weaknesses, and everyone tries just as hard to work on theirs. I wouldn't say that I got 50 percent better at it than before, but maybe 10 percent or so. I will just keep working, keep improving. Sid helps a lot by giving me advice. It's always good because look at how difficult it is to play against him."

With HBO now around there was a lot of attention to this game against the Capitals.

Yes, I don't even understand it. Because it's just another regular season game and there is so much hype surrounding it. But it was great at the same time with a sold out arena and a play-off-like atmosphere. Everyone was wearing their red jerseys here. People are now very serious about supporting the Capitals. And it's a great thing.

Did you watch the first two episodes of HBO's Road to the Winter Classic?

I watched the first one, but I didn't have time to watch the second episode.

Great. Now tell me about something everyone wants to know. What was that Dupuis' 'F--k you, Geno' all about when he said ‘Hi, guys' to everyone else?

[Laughing] I don't know. Maybe I looked at him the wrong way before. Maybe something happened earlier...

I think you were peacefully eating or something...

I think I was changing. Or maybe I was eating. I just don't know why he said it. Maybe he just acted for the cameras? [smiling] I don't know.

Why didn't you say anything in reply?

I did! But for some reason it wasn't shown. In English. Those kind of words can be said in English.

New Year's Day, the biggest holiday in Russia, is just around the corner and it's Christmas Day tomorrow. Do you have a holiday story you could share with our readers?

To be honest, I don't have any holiday stories. All my holiday stories are World Junior Championships and such. They always take place around this time of the year. I spent some of those years playing in tournaments in Canada, USA. Unfortunately, I don't have anything to share. I am really looking forward to this year, though. This is the first time in a few years that I will spend the holidays at home with my friends who will come over. We'll sit down together and celebrate.

Can't celebrate too hard though because you have a game on the 1st of January.

Yeah, but I also heard that there's rain in the forecast. And I heard that if there's rain the game will be postponed [smiling]. And if it does rain and the game will indeed be postponed, then there will be a chance to really celebrate [the New Year's].

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