Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin broke a rule of sorts Thursday when he divulged a detail about a recent injury that forced him to miss five games.
But he did so because of the context it lent to the most recent game he missed, Wednesday’s win against Edmonton, because of an NHL suspension.
Malkin was forced to sit out the game because he wildly swung a high stick toward Philadelphia’s Michael Raffl with less than five minutes left in the game and the Penguins leading 3-0. Malkin was reacting – or, in the parlance of sports, retaliating – to a punch to the back of the neck from Raffl.
“This is my point,” Malkin said after he participated in an optional practice Thursday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “I missed five games because I had an upper-body injury problem, my neck, and he, like, hit me behind my neck. Of course I’m a little bit upset.”
Malkin did not go so far as to say Raffl intentionally targeted Malkin’s area of recent injury, but he said he expected some shenanigans from the rival Flyers given the game circumstance.
“We see the time, there, like four minutes (or a little more) left. We’re up 3-0,” Malkin said. “We know Philly, they (would) start to do shit a little bit.”
Malkin got a match penalty, giving Philadelphia a five-minute power play. The Flyers scored once.
Malkin said after that game that he didn’t think he would be suspended, but after a phone hearing with the league Tuesday, he got hit with the single-game sit-down.
Asked Thursday if he agreed with the supplemental discipline, Malkin wavered.
“Yes and no,” he said. “One game, yeah, probably it’s OK. I played dangerous. My stick was high. Again, my point is I didn’t touch his face. (I hit) his shoulder, I think. I think he dove.
“I know it’s a tough game, but he played dirty and the referee didn’t give him nothing. I don’t understand that.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan showed some empathy for the desire to retaliate.
“It’s an emotional game, and stuff happens out there,” he said. “I just think the most important thing is we learn from the experiences and we move on. That’s where we’re at right now. We put it behind us. We’re looking forward.”
Malkin can return Saturday when the Penguins face Calgary in the first of back-to-back home matinees.
Although he has 56 points in 41 games, Malkin, 32, has by all accounts – including his own – struggled with confidence, struggled to be the dominant force he has been through much of his career.
Whether it was born of belief in Malkin or hope, Sullivan said he expects his hulking center to regain his top form.
“I think it’s critical,” Sullivan said. “All we can do is look forward. We can’t change the past. We’ve got to make sure we react the right way in moving forward – all of us, and Geno’s no different. I know he’s excited to get back in the lineup. We’re certainly excited to have him back. He’s an impact player, and we know he’s going to be real good for us.”
Malkin expects no less of himself.
“We play back-to-back against good teams. I’m excited to play,” he said. “Last game, my line, we played good against Philly. I’m back first game (from the neck injury), a little bit nervous, but I think we played pretty well. I feel so good. I’m excited to play after five games, step on the ice and do my best.
“It’s not easy this year, but I’m trying to do my best. In practice, (I work) so hard every day, work a little bit extra on the ice with stick handling, with skating. I feel OK right now. I feel like my confidence (will) come back to me and I’ll do my best to help the team to win.”
At least enough to get into the playoffs, and do it with some momentum.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on all season; the most important (thing) is the playoffs,” Malkin said. “If we make the playoffs, it’s like new life, a new challenge for us. We have a great team. We understand it’s a tough league, but we try to win every game. We look to the playoffs. We look forward to being the playoffs and show (our) best game in the playoffs.”
And the suspension?
“I’ll try to forget that. It’s a little bit bad luck for me. I missed one game. I missed money,” Malkin said, eliciting some laughter from reporters. “The team won (Wednesday). That’s good.”
Those participating in the optional practice were goaltender Casey DeSmith, defensemen Justin Schultz and Juuso Riikola, and forwards Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Zach Aston-Reese, Tanner Pearson, Jared McCann, Dominik Simon, Teddy Blueger and Garrett Wilson.
Assistant Mark Recchi oversaw things with Sullivan taking the option.