Scrunching up some leftover hockey tape into a sticky ball, Evgeni (Gino) Malkin fires the gooey orb at a nearby garbage pail in the Pittsburgh Penguins dressing room.
The pail, that is.
He does, however, hit a passer-by with a “splat.”
Sitting three cubicles away, Sidney Crosby has a good laugh at Malkin’s aim. Or, in this particular case, his lack of it.
Such is the good-natured relationship enjoyed by the two Penguin superstars these days. After they helped lead Pittsburgh to two consecutive final appearances and a Stanley Cup title, life is grand at the Igloo.
But, in less than two months, on the sport’s biggest stage, that will all change.
When the curtain rises on the Vancouver Olympics, Malkin will be there, having received the perfect present on Christmas day when he was officially picked for Team Russia.
Meanwhile, while the Canadian roster will not be revealed until Wednesday, Crosby will be at the top of the list. If not, Canadian executive director Steve Yzerman might find himself at the bottom of the murky Detroit River courtesy of livid Canadian fans.
Trust us, Stevie Y is much brighter than that.
Imagine the juicy storyline, then. Russia versus Canada. Gino versus Sid The Kid.
On the surface, it might seem hard to believe that these gifted teammates might easily turn on one another, somehow exchanging smiles for snarls.
Less than a week ago, for example, Crosby found himself in alone on Ottawa Senators goalie Brian Elliott. It would have been easy for him to take the shot. Instead, he dished the puck off to Malkin, who coverted to complete his hat trick in a 8-2 drubbing of the Sens.
One of the first players to congratulate Malkin?
Crosby. Who else?
Yet once the puck drops at the Winter Games, all this lovey-dovey stuff between Malkin and Crosby will end. So says Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who has seen his two stud forwards bare their fangs at one another before.
“If you watch Sid and Gino during practice, during the odd 5-on-5 drill, you can see how hard they battle against each other,” Bylsa said Saturday night. “They are both fierce competitors.
“They might look at each other cross-eyed for five or 10 seconds in the heat of battle like that, even if it is practice.”
With one difference. In Vancouver it will mean more than just bragging rights at a midweek practice.
“Myself and Gino going head to head ... there’s a real possibility it could happen,” Crosby said. “And I don’t expect anything less than a very fierce battle.”
Notice that both Bylsma and Crosby liberally use the word “fierce” to describe the potential matchup between No. 71 and No. 87.
“I wouldn’t expect Gino to be any softer out there just because it’s me, that’s for sure,” Crosby said.
And vice versa.
“Sid’s a great player,” Malkin said. “But it’s not a dangerous (situation) yet.”
Should the Russian braintrust opt to put a Super Line together, Malkin might line up with Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. According to Pens defenceman Sergei Gonchar, also picked for Team Russia Friday, “the only other line with that much skill I can think of was when Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure and Alex Mogilny played together.”
Whatever happens, Crosby and Malkin have not started any pre-Olympic ribbing with each other. Nor will they.
“It’s such a rivaly (between Canada and Russia), there’s just too much mutual respect between us to do that,” Crosby said.
In other words, the two Pen stars will let their play do their talking for them in Vancouver. In the meantime, they will continue their combined efforts to humiliate NHL opponents, like the Maple Leafs Sunday night.
Let’s see if that brings another chuckle to Crosby’s face.