Evgeni Malkin is ready to rejoin the Pittsburgh Penguins (34-15-3) lineup Monday night when they face the Philadelphia Flyers (22-22-7). The Penguins have already clinched a playoff spot but have first place within their grasp, while Philadelphia’s season will mercifully end in a few days without a sniff at the playoffs. The pucks drops at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday at 7 p.m.
Observers at the Penguins morning skate in Philadelphia noted Malkin took line rushes as part of the top four lines. Jason Zucker was his left wing. Jared McCann skated with Jeff Carter on the Penguins third line. Malkin has been a full participant in recent practices and skates but has not formally taken a position in line rushes until Monday. He was injured against Boston on March 16.
Head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed Malkin “will play.”
However, defenseman Mike Matheson is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury, after he was clipped just below the visor by Tristan Jarry’s clearing attempt on Saturday.
As a team, the Penguins haven’t won the division since 2013-14 but are in position after completing a bruising week with two against Boston and two in Washington. The Penguins won three of four against the East Division bruisers, including two impressive shutout wins.
The good week vaulted the Penguins to the top of the MassMutual East Division with a two-point lead over Washington, which has one game in hand. The Bruins and Islanders are scrapping for third and fourth place.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a much different week ahead. They have two against the already eliminated and increasingly despondent Philadelphia Flyers, then cap off the whirlwind 2020-21 NHL season with two against the long-ago eliminated Buffalo Sabres.
The Flyers may use these two games against their hated arch-rivals to wash some of the bitter taste out of their mouth, or they could continue to slump to the finish line. Perhaps we’ll find out in the first 10 minutes.
The Penguins dismantled the Flyers in their last meetings in March. If not for thorough domination on March 4, in which the Penguins stopped playing after a 3-0 lead then lost 4-3, the Penguins would be winning the season series. However, the Flyers have won two of the past three games, including a shootout win on April 15, 2-1.
Flyers goalie Carter Hart is done for the season with a lower-body injury. Expect Brian Elliott to get the call between the pipes. Elliott has alternately great and leaky against the Penguins this season.
Casey DeSmith will start the front end of the back-to-back for the Penguins
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jared McCann||Jeff Carter||Frederick Gaudreau|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Colton Sceviour|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Mark Friedman||Cody Ceci|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
Philadelphia Flyers Lines
|Claude Giroux||Sean Couturier||Jakub Voracek|
|Joel Farabee||Kevin Hayes||Travis Konecny|
|James Van Riemsdyk||Nolan Patrick||Nicolas Aube-Kubel|
|Oskar Lindblom||Scott Laughton||Wade Allison|
|Ivan Provorov||Justin Braun|
|Travis Sanheim||Philippe Myers|
|Shayne Gostisbehere||Robert Hagg|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||(36 for 150) 24% 5th NHL||(119 for 154) 77.3% 25th NHL|
|Buffalo Sabres||(30 for 142) 21.1% 13th NHL||(106 for 137) 77.4% 24th NHL|
What to Watch:
Let’s see what the Flyers have left in the tank. They’ve been hopelessly lost and left nearly speechless after another bad loss this weekend.
Something tells me the next two games will be the Stanley Cup to the Philadelphia Flyers. If they win the next two, they can at least feel good for a few days, despite their season collapse.
The first 10 minutes are a “thing.” Watch for Philadelphia to throw everything at the Penguins to get an early goal. The Penguins are tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs with the most first-periods goals in the NHL (55). So, a patient counter-attack and strike may just put a dagger through Philadelphia, too.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault has, at various points, tried to attack the Penguins defense with an aggressive forecheck this season. That’s a departure from his typical 1-3-1 counter. However, in previous meetings, Philadelphia lacked the team speed to keep up with the Penguins defensemen, and the Penguins breakouts flawlessly zipped past the forecheck.
However, the Penguins have also been muddled when Philadelphia pulls back into the neutral zone clogging 1-3-1. Watch for both, but given the Penguins increased team speed with former Flyer Jeff Carter, the pullback seems to be a better option against the Penguins.
Also–the Malkin factor. The Penguins need to reintegrate Malkin into their lineup, and Malkin has just one week to find his form (assuming he plays on Monday).
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
-The Penguins’ amazing run, which began in March, has continued. The Penguins have points in 18 of their last 22 games (16-4-2).
-The Penguins are 9-5-3 in their last 17 vs. Philadelphia
-After a rough start on the road, the Penguins are 6-1 in their last seven road games.
-Jeff Carter is riding a three-game point streak after scoring his fourth goal with Pittsburgh on Saturday.
-Since the beginning of last season, Bryan Rust has scored 49 goals in 107 games. Head coach Mike Sullivan gushed in each of the last two weekends.
-Evgeni Malkin might play on Monday. In the 23 games that Malkin has missed, the Penguins are 16-5-2.
-Sidney Crosby has scored 111 points against the Flyers (46-66-111). Throughout NHL history, only three players have recorded more points against the Flyers – Mario Lemieux (124), Jaromir Jagr (120), and Bryan Trottier (117).
Penguins Taxi Squad:
D – Josh Maniscalco D – Juuso Riikola D – Yannick Weber G – Emil Larmi
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet, ESPN+; Radio: 105.9 The X.