Russian adds depth to Pens

Evgeni Malkin is close to getting his wish.

“A (lineup) of guys all speaking Russian,” he said Wednesday

after the Penguins practiced at Southpointe. “Tell him if we get

one more Russian like (defenseman Sergei Gonchar), we can have five

guys all speaking the same — just like back home.”

The “him” to whom Malkin was jokingly referring is Penguins

general manager Ray Shero, who acquired Russian-speaking left wing

Alexei Ponikarovsky from Toronto for prospect Luca Caputi and

defenseman Martin Skoula late Tuesday night.

With 66 points in 56 games, Malkin is .20 points-per-game off

his pace from last season, when he paced the NHL with 113 in 82

games. His regular wingers during the Stanley Cup playoffs —

Ruslan Fedotenko and forward Max Talbot — have combined for

only 10 goals this season.

Ponikarovsky is one marker shy from doubling that total. He

posted 19 goals and 41 points in 61 games with Toronto.

Malkin’s old teammates know they need him to produce like the

top-two point producer he was the past two seasons for the Penguins

to defend their Stanley Cup championship. His newest teammate

figures getting Geno going is part of his new job.

“He has tremendous skill, speed and determination,”

Ponikarovsky said, “but everybody knows that. To play with this guy

requires some commitment.

“I basically have to fit in and do my part, because when

these two lines play their best, this team can do some great

things.”

One of the great things about Ponikarovsky’s game is his

commitment to defense. In fact, as a skilled forward that likes to

back-check, his style is similar to former Penguins winger Marian

Hossa, who helped improve the Penguins’ offense and defense during

his short stint on a line with Crosby in 2008.

“He’s a guy who plays well away from the puck, is good down

low on grinding shifts and getting to the net,” head coach Dan

Bylsma said. “Our pro scouts have watched him a lot, and they’re

calling him a motivated player right now with the way he’s playing

and the effort he gives out.”

Ponikarovsky said he appreciated Bylsma’s assessment of his

skills, and he offered some words that might find favor with

Malkin.

“It helps when you can speak Russian on the ice because it’s

our first language,” he said. “It’s not like I mind speaking

English, but Russian players all come from the same schools and

grow up playing as five-man units.

“I speak Geno’s language. So does Ruslan. That can’t hurt.”