For those who had their hopes up that Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin might return from injury in time for Thursday’s first-place showdown with the Capitals in Washington, well, you might have to have more patience.
Malkin, who is believed to have sustained a knee injury March 16, continued to practice with the team at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, but he was still wearing a white non-contact jersey. He took some line rushes on a “fifth line” with Mark Jankowski and Sam Lafferty.
He also worked in a little bit on the power play drills. First, it was with the second unit, then he replaced Jarded McCann for a couple turns with the top unit. It’s unclear where he will be used once he returns to games.
Injured forward Frederick Gaudreau, meanwhile, joined practice in a regular, contact-approved jersey and centered the fourth line between Colton Sceviour and Evan Rodrigues.
If it seems incredible that Malkin has missed the past 21 games – well over a third of this scheduled shortened by COVID-19 – perhaps it’s because the Penguins have played well without him.
They are 14-5-2 in his absence and are neck and neck with Washington for first place in the East Division and coming off a split of two games with the Boston Bruins. For what it’s worth, the Capitals could also be without Alex Ovechkin on Thursday. He is day to day because of an injury that has kept him out the past two games and did not participate Wednesday in Washington’s optional practice, according to @SamanthaPell.
That doesn’t mean Malkin won’t be valuable in his return, of course. He had five goals, 17 points in the 14 full games he played before he got hurt.
Unlike Malkin, Gaudreau, when he’s ready to return, could face a challenge staying in the lineup despite serving as a solid fourth-liner in the 13 games (one goal, three assists) he has played.
Brandon Tanev, out the past 11 games, again skated before practice with the taxi squad in an alternate-colored (this time gray for those with inquisitive minds) jersey, indicating he is not yet ready for contact or for the main practice.
The club has previously said Tanev probably won’t be back before the end of the regular season, and that still seems feasible given that there are just 10 days remaining.
However, with a delay in the onset of the playoffs and the start date not determined or announced, there would seem to be a good chance that Tanev could be ready for the postseason given that he is skating and shooting.
We didn’t get a video of it, but Tanev did one lightning lap around the rink just before he got off the ice. The wheels are there, although he might need a bit more time to build his stamina back up so he can display those wheels over the course of a game.