NEW YORK -- Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin did not travel with the team for its game Wednesday against the New York Rangers (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) and will miss the Penguins' home game Thursday against the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) before being re-evaluated, according to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Bylsma said Malkin skated on his own Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
It's just the latest injury news for a team that also is missing its top four defensemen due to a variety of injuries. With Rob Scuderi (ankle), Paul Martin (undisclosed) and Brooks Orpik (concussion) already out, the Penguins put Kris Letang on injured reserve Monday with an upper-body injury. Pittsburgh filled his spot on the blue line by calling up Philip Samuelsson from the American Hockey League this week.
Bylsma said he's been pleased with the performance of this patched-up defense corps.
"Right now all six [defensemen] need to play and need to play in a lot of different spots," Bylsma said. "Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson, these guys step into the lineup and play meaningful situations against first-line, second-line guys. They're playing on the penalty kill, they're playing on the power play. They're stepping in and playing in meaningful spots on our team. They're doing a remarkable job. Not just in sheltered minutes. They're playing big-time minutes for our group."
With the defense struggling with injuries, Matt Niskanen has found himself as the unit's most veteran player. The 27-year-old established a new career high when he played 29:26 in the 4-1 win Saturday against the Red Wings. Two nights later he led all Penguins players in ice time in a 3-1 win against the Maple Leafs.
"Top four guys are out so it's obviously a big challenge," Niskanen told NHL.com. "But what we do have is a bunch of young, talented kids that are full of energy and excited to be here and compete. They're doing a really good job so far. It's an exciting thing to see these guys come in and just want to thrive. They want to enjoy every moment."
The Pens' defense could have its hands full against a Rangers team that has played Pittsburgh tough. In the Penguins' previous visit to Madison Square Garden, they lost 5-1 on Nov. 6. They're hoping to be more opportunistic this time against a Rangers defense that was among the League's stingiest in November, but has given up three or more goals in each of the five games they've played in their current nine-game homestand.
"They find a way to get in the way of a lot of shots, they get their sticks in lanes so you can't move around," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think the main thing is not passing up shots. If you get them you have to find a way to get them through and take advantage of them."
After playing seven defensemen Sunday in a 4-3 shootout win against the Calgary Flames, the Rangers will make one lineup change against Pittsburgh. Rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath will sit and forward Arron Asham will be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch.
"They're one of the best teams in the League. We always use them as a measuring stick as to where our game is. We need to do that again [Wednesday]," Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto said. "This is a big game for us. Two teams that don't like each other and we've competed in the past pretty hard. So we're excited to go."
A number of key players were excused from New York's morning skate Wednesday, including Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Ryan McDonagh. Lundqvist will start in net for the Rangers against Marc-Andre Fleury.
Here are the projected lineups for the Penguins and Rangers:
Injured: Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Kris Letang (upper body), Paul Martin (undisclosed), Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), Rob Scuderi (ankle), Beau Bennett (wrist), Tanner Glass (hand), Brooks Orpik (concussion), Jayson Megna (lower body), Andrew Ebbett (ankle)
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