WASHINGTON -- His teammates call him "Gino."
But, given the line of questioning he was forced to deal with yesterday, maybe "Jimmy Hoffa" would have been a more fitting nickname for Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin because of all the inferences that he had "disappeared" in Game 1.
Malkin had an assist in the Penguins' 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals in the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal Saturday, but admittedly was not on top of his game. Throw in the fact that he has not scored in his past four outings, and the prominent query making the rounds these days is: "What's wrong with Malkin?"
The normally media-shy Malkin responded yesterday by facing reporters head on after the Penguins had completed their workout at the Verizon Center. His message: Expect more physical play from him in Game 2 tonight.
"Maybe I'll play a little bit harder, maybe I'll have more hits," he said. "(But) I'm not going to change my game (significantly).
"It's OK. I just need more shots and must play aggressive."
Despite helping the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup final a year ago, Malkin admitted he had some butterflies prior to stepping out on to the ice in Game 1 on Saturday against fellow Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.
"It was the first game," Malkin said. "Maybe I was a little bit nervous but ... the next game will be better.
"I'm not nervous. It's OK."
Malkin's woes were not limited to the offensive side of the game. A lacklustre backchecking attempt blew up in his face when the Caps' David Steckel got away from him to score Washington's first goal in the opener.
Still, teammate Sidney Crosby certainly is not concerned about Malkin.
"I thought he played well," Crosby said. "It's always easy to point fingers and talk about guys when you lose but the fact is, it comes down to a couple of plays. If we don't execute, then we're pointing fingers. We're not worried. He's a great player and he's consistent."
The Penguins spent much of practice yesterday working on a power play that went 0-for-5 in Game 1.
"The thing about the power play is that you always look toward the next one," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We still have a life. There are still games to win. So you just look ahead."