Just in time for the Edmonton Oilers and their stars to hit town, the Pittsburgh Penguins appear ready to roll out their full, healthy lineup Saturday – including center Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin was a full go again Friday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. Coach Mike Sullivan labeled Malkin a game-time decision, but said things are “encouraging,” so it’s pretty safe to say Malkin is expected to play in the afternoon game against the Oilers, his first game since he got a lower-body injury in the second game of the season nearly a month ago.
You know, barring something weird like a debilitating spider bite.
Later Friday, the Penguins activated Malkin from injured reserve.
Malkin and the Penguins’ other all-world center, Sidney Crosby, will face Edmonton and its star power in center Connor McDavid and winger Leon Draisaitl.
This should be the first time the Penguins roll out the lineup general manager Jim Rutherford intended for this season. At least one player has been out with an injury in all 13 games so far. That it comes in a marquee matchup with the Oilers is just gravy.
“The important thing is that you want to get everyone involved,” Crosby said. “You want everyone to feel good, get out there and get some rhythm – especially an afternoon game; we haven’t played one of those yet. I think just trying to get everyone into it right away will be good. And the fact that we have a full lineup would help be able to do that.”
The Penguins were hit with a string of injuries in October, mostly at forward. Malkin will be the last of those to return, and he is probably a least a little ahead of schedule based on initial fears.
Draisaitl leads the NHL with 25 points and is tied for first with 12 goals. McDavid is tied for third with 23 points, including six goals. Crosby leads the Penguins and is tied for eighth in the league with 17 points. He has five goals.
In particular, McDavid, 22, has been seen as the heir apparent to – or, in some circles, has surpassed – Crosby, 32, as the top player in the world.
“He’s a great playmaker. He can shoot the puck,” Crosby said of McDavid. “He does everything well, but I think his speed really allows him to create all those things.”
There are some games the ultra-competitive Crosby, whether he admits it or not, circles on his calendar. Matchups with the rival Philadelphia Flyers, for instance. He all but said the twice-a-season showdowns with McDavid and the Oilers fit that category.
“I think I just get prepared knowing it’s going to be a good challenge, knowing that you’re playing against him and knowing what he can do and the game that he plays,” Crosby said. “You have to be aware and prepare accordingly.”
Getting Malkin back means teams will have to adjust their defensive plans against the Penguins because they won’t be able to focus as much on Crosby’s top line.
It’s a little different for Edmonton, where McDavid and Draisaitl play together on the top line.
Malkin had a goal and no assists and looked strong in his one-plus games before he got hurt. He has missed 11 games.
At practice, Malkin resumed his normal position at second-line center. Here is how the lines looked:
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Dominik Simon
Alex Galchenyuk-Evgeni Malkin–Patric Hornqvist
Jared McCann-Nick Bjugstad-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese/Teddy Blueger—Brandon Tanev
Dominik Kahun rotated in, but would appear to be the prime candidate to get pushed out of the lineup.
The defensive pairings were as expected:
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson-Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson-John Marino
Chad Ruhwedel-Juuso Riikola