PITTSBURGH -- Four of the Pittsburgh Penguins' top players have been out because of injury. Each of them skated on Consol Energy Center ice Monday and, to varying degrees, progress was reported.
Reigning National Hockey League MVP Evgeni Malkin (upper body) went through a full practice with the team, albeit not while skating with linemates. NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), reigning 40-goal wing James Neal (concussion) and defenseman Paul Martin (hand) all skated before practice for about a half hour.
"It's definitely good to see guys on the ice and skating as opposed to not being on the ice and skating," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think it bodes well for their situations."
Malkin is the closest to returning to action after missing Saturday night's 3-1 win against the Florida Panthers when a previous upper-body injury (believed to be his shoulder) flared up at the morning skate.
Malkin missed nine games last month because of the shoulder injury sustained March 9 at Toronto. He returned to play seven games, scoring goals during each of the most recent two before sitting out Saturday. Malkin said he wasn't able to get much strength into his shot prior to the Panthers game.
"I just hurt my old injury and it's tough," Malkin said after an extended stay on the ice Monday. "I tried to play (Saturday), but it's not how I want, so I just took a couple days off.
"I tried to shoot (Saturday), but I couldn't shoot hard. I knew I couldn't play because if you cannot shoot hard, it's tough to play."
Malkin, who has 29 points in 28 games this season, said Monday he felt "good" and that he is hopeful to play Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens.
"The opportunity to take time off in the schedule in the last week was important," Bylsma said of Malkin. "Rest and getting more healthy, getting back with some practice time is good for Evgeni at this point in time. I'm not entirely concerned about if the shot is going to be at 100 percent or 95 before he gets back. We certainly want to get him healthy and playing at his level. If rest does that right now and with the opportunity in the schedule, then we've taken it."
It isn't rest that will necessarily assist Crosby, Martin and Neal. Neal did not accompany the team on its 3-0 Southeast road trip because of a concussion sustained late in a win against the New York Rangers on April 5.
Bylsma on Monday termed Neal "symptom-free" but, as is customary when dealing with concussions, did not put any timetable on a possible return to full practice or game action.
Martin, who underwent surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand two weeks ago, is halfway into the four-to-six week prognosis he was given for a return.
"He certainly has been able to have motion a little bit in what he can wear on his hand, and that allows him to go on the ice and skate," Bylsma said. "I don't even have a time frame as to when he can get back in a practice situation with a team, but I think to be able to get out and skate, his skating will be able to be at full speed as he progresses with the injury, so he's going to be out skating doing a bunch of that. For him, it's just a matter of going through the time period and the healing process."
Sixteen days after being struck in the mouth by a deflected puck, Crosby skated with a face shield that covered his mouth and jaw as well as his eyes and upper face.
Crosby did not speak with reporters afterward, but Bylsma described the activity metaphorically as "foot in the water."
"Just out for basically a skate," Bylsma said. "Get out there a little bit of exercise and get on the ice. I don't think there was any strenuous exercise at this point."
Still, having their captain on the ice was met well around the dressing room of a team that is 32-10-0 and can all but wrap up the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with victories in its next two games against the Canadiens and Boston Bruins.
Linemate Pascal Dupuis quipped that Crosby "looked great with that visor on."
"It's really good to see him on the ice," Dupuis said. "It's great to have him around and have him working out actually on the ice. I guess it's the first step to getting him back playing."
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