Skating with Skills Coach Ty Hennes is usually a rehab assignment reserved for Pittsburgh Penguins taking their first step from the injured list to the ice. Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin took the ice for about an hour before the Penguins main practice at PPG Paints Arena.
As he appeared all week, Malkin was solid but perhaps not truly aggressive with his edges and on his skates. Take that for what you will, whether he’s banged up, taking it easy, or not yet confident on both legs.
Malkin played in the final four regular-season games and appeared to be making progress, but missed the third period of the season finale in what head coach Mike Sullivan termed a “tweak” of Malkin’s lower-body injury, which most assume is a knee.
In another sign of concern for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Malkin did not take part in line rushes on Saturday, nor did he participate on the first power-play unit. Instead, Jared McCann took his spot on PP1 and Jeff Carter took the second line with Kasperi Kapanen and Jared McCann. Freddy Gaudreau slotted as the third line center with Jason Zucker and Evan Rodrigues. Brandon Tanev continued his long-standing role with Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese.
The Penguins face the New York Islanders in Game 1 of their Round One at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday at noon. Head coach Mike Sullivan was already in playoff form.
“All players (except for Casey DeSmith) participated in practice and are a game-time decision,” he said bluntly.
It’s not like the Penguins aren’t used to do dealing with adversity and injuries. As one of the most injured teams in the NHL, including missing Malkin for 23 games, the Penguins claimed the MassMutual East Division and the No. 1 seed.
Malkin did participate in additional drills with the team after the line rushes. Perhaps Mike Sullivan is pulling a Hayden Fox at the Pineapple Bowl? (Coach reference).
In another bad sign for the Penguins, backup goalie Casey DeSmith was absent from practice. DeSmith left the ice after he appeared to suffer an injury or aggravate his recent injury at practice on Friday. DeSmith left the ice with an outburst of frustration.
UPDATE: Sullivan said DeSmith is out, and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, which is related to his absence at the end of the regular season.
Maxime Lagace, who was the Penguins’ third goalie for most of the season, was the second goalie at practice. Lagace earned a 1-0 shutout over the Buffalo Sabres in the season finale. The shutout was the first NHL shutout of his career and his first NHL win since Dec. 9, 2017.