All the talkin' is Malkin

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- The question barely was out of the interpreter's mouth when Evgeni Malkin gave a one-word answer: "Easily."

The query to Malkin, the supremely talented 19-year-old Russian, was whether he thought Russia would beat Canada tonight if it plays to its capabilities.

"That strikes me as typical Russian confidence and that's fine," Canadian forward and Mississauga native Ryan O'Marra said. "That is their belief, and I have a differing opinion. I think our game plan, if we execute it, will be just fine against the Russians."

And so it goes in the hockey rivalry that exists between Russia and Canada, one that will be in place presumably as long as there is hockey to be played. Along with the intensity and high level of play that is guaranteed tonight in the championship final of the 2006 world junior tournament.

Canada is assured of setting a record. It will finish with a medal for the eighth consecutive year in the world junior, something no nation has done before.

There was chatter among watchers yesterday at practice at GM Place when forward Blake Comeau, who has helped form the top line with Dustin Boyd and Steve Downie, left the ice. But he will play tonight.

"He got a stick in the spot we can't talk about," Downie said, smiling. "But he will be fine."

For Canada to achieve its goal of winning gold for the second consecutive year, it will have to deal with Malkin, considered one of the world's best players not in the NHL. A year ago in Grand Forks, N.D., under coach Brent Sutter, Canada took Alexander Ovechkin out of the gold-medal game early after he was pounded into submission. It's hard to see why Canada would go at Malkin differently.

"We are not going to build a whole strategy around him," Sutter said. "Hey, we all know he is a very good hockey player. We think we have 22 very good hockey players.

"Malkin is not Ovechkin. I think Ovechkin played a lot of one-on-one hockey and Malkin is more of a playmaker."

Talk to NHL scouts and they will tell you Malkin, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, has been a man among boys at the world junior.

Through five games, Canada's most impressive stat is that of the six goals it has allowed, just one has been at even-strength.

While it may be asking too much to shut down the Russians totally during even-strength play, the defence pair of Marc Staal and Ryan Parent were given a Malkin dossier to study last night. So far, the two have been nearly letter perfect in facing the opposition's best players.

"The biggest thing is shutting him down through the middle and keeping him to the wall, and trying to keep the puck along the boards," Parent said. "It's going to be a challenge."

Canada beat Russia 6-1 to win gold last winter, but a much closer result should occur tonight.

"I would tell you that if there are any tickets left, to buy them," U.S. coach Walt Kyle said. "I think it is going to be one of those great games this tournament is all about."


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