PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin appeared to break out of a months-long funk with a standout performance Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Malkin had to assists and was a physical presence on the ice.
But Malkin will miss at least the next two games with an upper-body injury. He did not practice yesterday but the team termed it a maintenance day.
“He’s not going to play tonight. He’s not going to play (tomorrow against Toronto). His status is day-to-day,” said head coach Mike Sullivan.
While Malkin’s statistics are still well above the average NHL player, coaches and the player alike agree that Malkin’s game has been out of sorts. This season, Malkin has 55 points (14g, 41a) in 50 games.
“I’m disappointed for him because he had a great game (Wednesday). We think that was a game he could really build on,” Sullivan said. “We’re hopeful this is a short term thing.”
Malkin is a player prone to extended streaks, hot or cold. Malkin has been adjusting to the evolving style of the Penguins play. Wednesday night, he seemed to adapt well. He chipped the puck low when necessary and limited his turnovers at each blue line; those turnovers have been a bugaboo for Malkin this season.
“I watched video with the coaches,” Malkin said Tuesday. “They showed me what I’m doing wrong.”
Malkin’s injury will create space for two of the following three players to play center: Recently recalled Teddy Blueger, and recent acquisitions Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann. All three are natural centers. Sullivan expressed a desire to integrate Blueger more into the Penguins game plan going forward, but that was before the Bjugstad/McCann acquisition on Friday.
The Penguins host Ottawa Friday night and are in Toronto, Saturday night.