Ottawa Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar was always as much a big brother to center Evgeni Malkin as a teammate during their four seasons with the Penguins. Gonchar is in his second season with Ottawa, but the bond remains.

The Russians spent Thanksgiving together — Malkin's girlfriend did the cooking — and Gonchar sounded proud of Malkin's progress since injuring his knee in February. They worked out together in Russia during the summer.

"To me," Gonchar said, "it seems like he is making that next step and maturing. He is more serious about his job. Last year, he didn't have a successful season like everyone expected him to have, so obviously, he was hoping to play better."

Malkin's workout regimen, which was detailed on the Penguins' website, wasn't necessarily for Gonchar.

"I was on a different program," he said.

But Malkin's hard work did not go unnoticed by his countryman.

"He was mentally ready for it," Gonchar said. "He was willing to do whatever it took to make sure he was ready for the season."