BOSTON — You know the Pittsburgh Penguins drill. One player enters the lineup, at least one leaves. The Penguins announced that Evgeni Malkin was placed in COVID protocol earlier Monday. Monday afternoon, the Penguins lines were adjusted, while Drew O’Connor and Danton Heinen were in a regular sweater at the team practice at Warrior Arena.
After the All-Star break, the NHL moved to more relaxed COVID testing. Asymptomatic players aren’t tested, so Malkin’s stay in protocol means he has some symptoms. PHN will update the story when head coach Mike Sullivan speaks after practice.
UPDATE: Sullivan said Malkin tested positive during the break, but didn’t provide a specific day (the day following a player’s positive test is Day 1 of the five-day protocol).
“So, during the break, he was symptomatic…and he tested positive. My understanding is the symptoms aren’t severe, but they were significant enough that Geno reached out…I don’t think he can go to Canada just based on the protocol in Canada.”
The Penguins face the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Without Malkin, Sullivan appeared to opt for the least disruption. Kasperi Kapanen stuck on the second line with Brock McGinn, the combination beside Malkin in the final game before the break.
Evan Rodrigues filled the third-line center role with 6-foot-7 Radim Zohorna and Danton Heinen. The Penguins’ top line remained intact.
However, fans will notice the Penguins lines have a distinct WBS Penguins flavor, especially the fourth line, comprised entirely of players who began the season in the AHL and two of three who are WBS regulars.
Edit: PHN added the fourth line with Brian Boyle, Dominik Simon and Zach Aston-Reese.
Penguins radio play-by-play Josh Getzoff also noted that spare defenseman Mark Friedman cycled on the second pair with John Marino.
Of course, the Penguins require a few WBS Penguins in the lineup as Jason Zucker (core muscle surgery), Teddy Blueger (broken jaw) and Malkin are out. Malkin will be out until Saturday, though last week, defenseman Chad Rudhwedel was placed in protocol then played in the next game. Sullivan declined to explain the elaborate process by which Ruhwedel tested out of protocol.
“We don’t have the time…” Sullivan quipped then.
Without Malkin, the Penguins top power play was also adjusted with Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Rodrigues, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust.
The Pittsburgh Penguins begin the figurative second half of their season Tuesday against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden. The Penguins are three points ahead of the Washington Capitals with one game in hand and 16 points ahead of the first team out of the playoffs, the Detroit Red Wings.
Check back for updates.