Malkin, Letang out, Cooke a game-time decision

Tuesday, 03.19.2013 / 1:00 PM | Chris Adamski  - NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in 10 days, Evgeni Malkin spent Tuesday morning skating with his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates.

He won't, however, be joining them on the ice Tuesday night when they face the Washington Capitals (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2).

The reigning NHL MVP's return to game action could come soon, though.

Malkin skated on his own with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar for about a half-hour before the Penguins' full group had its morning skate.

That wasn't all that surprising; Malkin has been a regular skating in solo sessions with Kadar. Malkin joining his teammates was a new development.

"I feel good," Malkin said afterward. "Practice with team first time, feel very good. Just the next step to my recovery."

Malkin did not take part in power-play drills nor in some of the line rushes, and he was not skating with his regular linemates when he did. Those were clues he was going to miss his sixth consecutive game because of an upper-body injury sustained late in a win at the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 9.

After the skate, coach Dan Bylsma confirmed it.

"Evgeni Malkin will not be playing [Tuesday]," Bylsma said.

Another Penguins star ruled out for the game Tuesday is Kris Letang. The NHL leader in points among defensemen did not play during the final two periods of a 2-1 win Sunday against the Boston Bruins because of a lower-body injury.

Letang did not take part in the morning skate, and the only update Bylsma provided was that he was "day-to-day."

Though Letang's status is hazy, Malkin sounded optimistic he could return in time for a game Friday at the New York Islanders.

"I hope," the two-time Art Ross Trophy winner said. "I miss hockey, I miss my team and I hope Friday, yes."

Missing Malkin and Letang means two players who account for more than a point per game are out for Pittsburgh. Letang (three goals, 25 assists in 27 games) and Malkin (five goals, 19 assists in 21 games) are big parts of the Penguins' fourth-ranked power play.

"We're going to have to keep it pretty simple," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "I don't think you want to change too much, but obviously missing those two guys, we want to simplify things, not force anything, and play to the strengths of all the guys who are out there."

The Penguins have won all five of the most recent games they've played without Malkin and are 7-2-0 without him this season. Malkin missed four games in late February and early March because of a concussion.

"It's tough to watch up close, but I'm glad the team's won the past five games," Malkin said. "It's playing unbelievable right now and it's easier [to miss games] because I know they're playing tough right now."

With Malkin out, Dustin Jeffrey often has been filling as Pittsburgh's second-line center, playing between James Neal and rookie Beau Bennett.

It should be noted Neal is without a goal in his past four games and has two goals in the nine games Malkin has not played this season. He has 15 goals in the 21 games Malkin has been on the ice.

Left wing Matt Cooke also was absent from the morning skate. Cooke has been affected by an apparent undisclosed injury in recent days but has not missed any games.

If Cooke can't play, Pittsburgh must dress seven defensemen. The Penguins have carried eight defensemen much of the season, mixing and matching players into the lineup.

"We have thought about using seven defensemen as part of a regular decision at game time, anyway," Bylsma said. "We have a good group back there, with different elements each defenseman brings. ... We feel like we have eight defensemen to feel good about."

If the Penguins go with 11 forwards, Bylsma said Craig Adams would move over to centering the fourth line, with Crosby among those double-shifting.

Here is how the Penguins could look when they face the Capitals on Tuesday:

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis

Beau Bennett - Dustin Jeffrey - James Neal

Matt Cooke - Brandon Sutter - Tyler Kennedy

Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin

Simon Despres - Matt Niskanen

Mark Eaton - Deryk Engelland

Marc-Andre Fleury

Tomas Vokoun

Scratched: Robert Bortuzzo

Injured: Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Kris Letang (lower body)

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