Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar and Penguins center Evgeni Malkin have been close for years. Malkin was Gonchar's tenant for part of the time that Gonchar played with the Penguins.

The two also use the same summer training facility in Moscow.

This year, Gonchar knew Malkin was rehabilitating from knee surgery during the offseason, but he also noticed that his former teammate was working out with more purpose.

Despite being slowed early by soreness in the knee, Malkin has had a strong first quarter this season. He had 18 points in 15 games before facing the Senators Friday night at Consol Energy Center.

"To me, it seems like he is making that next step," Gonchar said. "He's maturing. He is more serious about his job. He was really pushing [in the summer].

"Another thing is, he didn't have as successful a season as everybody expected him to have [before the injury in 2010-11], and he obviously was hoping he would play better.

"It seems like that maturity and that next step is coming in, and, because of it, he is doing better -- not only on the ice but also preparing off the ice."