Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, recovering from June knee surgery, has had some of the limitations on his practice regimen lifted, coach Mike Sullivan confirmed Thursday.
Malkin has been practicing with the team in a no-contact jersey, and that was the case again Thursday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, but he is doing more than before.
He again took some reps with the second power play unit, something he’s done a couple times now, and late in the session he took a turn on the wing on a line with Sidney Crosby and Kasperi Kapanen.
“The limitations around what he can and can’t do are increasingly getting less and less,” Sullivan said of Malkin. “That, for me, is a real indicator that he’s getting closer.”
Sullivan has said the club has a target date written in pencil for Malkin’s return to play, which will be his season debut, but he declined to divulge it. It is pretty doubtful it would be as soon as Friday when the Buffalo Sabres visit PPG Paints Arena.
“There’s a process that ‘Geno’ is going through,” Sullivan said. “We need to see it through. Once that process is complete and (with) all the feedback from Geno himself and from the medical team is satisfied, they’ll clear him to play. But right now he’s not cleared to play.”
The original timeline once training camp got going was that Evgeni Malkin would miss at least the first couple months of the season. We are past that point, but the news about Malkin’s recovery has been consistently good, especially a glowing report Nov. 17 from Sullivan following a Pittsburgh Penguins practice.
Meanwhile, the Penguins practiced without fourth-line center Brian Boyle.
Sullivan said Boyle is “dealing with some nagging lower-body stuff. I’d like to say he’s a maintenance day right now, but that status may change moving forward and it could turn into a day-to-day thing. It’s nothing significant, but we chose to hold him off the ice.
Boyle, who turns 37 Saturday, has three goals in 19 games in his first season with the Penguins, including a goal Tuesday against Montreal.
He has been a healthy scratch at times this season and also missed a few games because of an undisclosed injury.
He is a penalty killer and brings a physical presence when he is in the lineup.
Sam Lafferty took his place on the fourth line in practice.
Before practice, the two other players who have been dealing with injuries, top-line wingers Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, skated with Penguins assistant Mike Vellucci. Previously, they skated with assistant Todd Reirden, and Sullivan said he has worked with them, too.
Why the main coaches and not skills and skating coach Ty Hennes?
Well, Hennes is in COVID-19 protocol, Sullivan revealed. The virus is wreaking havoc on the NHL with multiple players around the league testing positive.
The Penguins have had several players test positive, some with symptoms, but have had none lately, so Hennes appears to be an isolated case in the organization.