No, Evgeni Malkin did not return to practice Wednesday, even in a non-contact capacity. No, he won’t be accompanying the Pittsburgh Penguins on their upcoming road trip. And no, there still is no defined timetable for the star center’s return from knee surgery. Forget all that, however, at least for now.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan offered the most extensive — and upbeat — update on Malkin in quite some time after the practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
“He’s done really, really well to this point,” Sullivan said. “I’ve sat with our medical staff here on a number of occasions with respect to Geno. They have built in a schedule for him. Some of it will be on the ice. Some of it will be off the ice. There is a schedule of a few days where we”re going to give him a break because he’s been training so hard for so long, and it’s a tedious process.”
That might explain why Malkin hasn’t been seen skating before practice in a couple days. Hey, that explanation sure beats the alternative — a setback.
“We’re really encouraged with the progress that he’s making,” Sullivan said. “We’re excited. I had an opportunity to see him the other day and was really encouraged with his strength on the ice and how he’s progressed.”
Returning to practice in a non-contact capacity would be the logical next step in his recovery, but after that it could still be some time before he gets clearance to practice fully, with contact, and then the OK to return to play.
In a season full of injuries and COVID-19 absences for the Penguins, Malkin is now the only regular not in the lineup. Call him Evgeni Malkin, call him Geno, but any objective evaluation would have to include calling him a core player with three Stanley Cup rings whose return can only make the team better.
Malkin, 35, had surgery on his right knee June 4 after he played through an injury as best as he could last season. He got hurt March 16 when he collided with Boston’s Jarred Tinordi. He missed the next 23 games, coming back for the final four games of the regular season but obviously hobbled.
He also missed the first two games of the Penguins’ first-round playoff loss against the New York Islanders.
The Penguins have never disclosed the exact nature of Malkin’s injury or the surgical procedure.
Near the start of training camp, Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said Malkin was expected to miss at least the first two months of the season. That would put him back around mid-December or later.
“He’s on track to where we think he’s going to trend to a return to play,” Sullivan said. “We’re really encouraged with the progress that he’s made.”
Evgeni Malkin won’t travel with the Penguins, but coach Mike Sullivan was upbeat with this update. pic.twitter.com/LtCWkg8vGC
— Shelly Anderson (@_ShellyAnderson) November 17, 2021