PITTSBURGH (AP) – Evgeni Malkin is adapting to a new league, country, language and position, all at age 20. Even if it seems all the adjusting is being made for him.

NHL coaches are scrambling to find ways to defend against the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie forward whose speed and instincts have been likened to that of Mario Lemieux.

“When everybody compares me to Mario Lemieux, it’s an honor,” Malkin, speaking through an interpreter, said of the praise by teammate Mark Recchi. “He’s the best player. I have to prove a lot more what I can do on the ice.”

The thinking around the league can only be: He can do more than this?

Malkin is one of only two players in 88 years – Boston’s Dimitri Kvartalnov in 1992-93 was the other – to score a goal in each of his first five games. Malkin could become the first player since the league’s inaugural season in 1917 to score in his first six if he gets a goal against the Los Angeles Kings this evening.

His Lemieux-like numbers (5 goals, 4 assists, a plus-7 in five games) are a major reason why the Penguins are 6-3.

, or six more victories than they had at this stage a year ago.

The last few months have been a whirlwind of culture shock for a player who is barely out of his teens: sneaking away from his Russian team in Finland, slipping into the United States, signing an NHL contract, getting acclimated to his new team. He’s even had his first NHL injury, a dislocated shoulder that sidelined him for three-plus weeks.

But on the ice, he has been the same in North America as he was in Russia or in the Turin Olympics – an all-around player who can generate scoring, and a lot of it, with his size (6-foot-4), speed, stickhandling and reflexes.

“He’s learning fast, and getting better with every game,” linemate Sidney Crosby said. “It’s the same way it was with Mario – you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you know you’re going to create something. With a creative mind like that, you don’t know what to expect and it makes for an element of surprise out there.”

Ask the Flyers. They have dominated the Penguins for years, yet haven’t matched their speed and youthful skill while being outscored 12-2 in two losses to them.

With Malkin, Crosby and 18-year-old rookie Jordan Staal scoring at a high rate, the Penguins are one of the league’s surprise stories. Of their nine scorers who have two or more goals, only two are 25 or older.

Following four consecutive last-place seasons in which they were known mostly for dumping high-priced stars, the Penguins have the look of a playoff contender.

Any surprise that Malkin’s No. 71 jersey has joined Crosby’s No. 87 as one of the league’s top sellers?

“I think this team’s really starting to join together, really creating a lot of chemistry,” said Staal, who is 2 years younger than Malkin but has four goals in nine games. “Hopefully the next couple of years, we can really be a team to be reckoned with.”

They might be now. The Penguins will get a better idea of how far they’ve come from last season’s team that won only 22 games when they go on a weeklong road trip to Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim.

On Wednesday, Malkin goes against Anze Kopitar, who leads NHL rookies with 13 points for the Kings. Malkin is four points behind him despite playing in nine fewer games and doing so at a new position.

Because Penguins coach Michel Therrien was eager to get Malkin and Crosby on the ice together in a scoring tandem that soon might rival that of Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr a few seasons ago, Malkin – a natural center – is playing left wing.

It can be a tricky move, but one he seems to be making quickly.

“Right now, we are winning games and it’s great for everybody,” Malkin said. “If the coach thinks I’m doing well on the left wing, that’s how I’m going to play.”

He won’t speculate if he can keep producing points like this, but he became convinced after getting six points in seven games in the Winter Olympics he could play in the NHL.

“I felt like I was ready,” he said.

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