PENGUINS (42-24-11) at BLUE JACKETS (38-35-4)
TV: SN360, ROOT, FS-O
COLUMBUS -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will be without forward Evgeni Malkin for a second straight game with an undisclosed injury when they play at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday (2 p.m. ET; SN360, ROOT, FS-O) but his return seems imminent.
Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Saturday morning the goal is to have him in the lineup Sunday at the Philadelphia Flyers (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN) after Malkin skated in Nationwide Arena prior to the game against the Blue Jackets.
“It seems like things are moving along,” Johnston said. “There was good reaction to (Friday’s) skate when he skated with our team so plans are still looking at (Sunday) morning and see how he is.”
The Penguins (42-24-11) have the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They are one point behind the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, who hold the second and third automatic qualifiers in the Metropolitan Division.
“I expect them to be an extremely desperate team,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said of the Penguins. “They are dealing with injuries to some key guys.”
The Penguins need Malkin, but Johnston said there is no reason to rush his return.
“He’s so close and playing him in a back-to-back games is tough, and with a nagging injury you’re better being careful,” Johnston said. “We just want to make sure he’s cleared fully before he’s back in the lineup. He still hasn’t been cleared yet and we’re hoping (Sunday) he may be and if not, I would expect Tuesday for sure (at the Ottawa Senators).”
Malkin leads the Penguins with 28 goals and is second in points with 70.
Pittsburgh is coming off a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, and is 3-6-1 in its past 10 games.
The Penguins (42-24-11) will also be without defensemen Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) and Kris Letang (concussion). Defenseman Taylor Chorney is on emergency recall from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
For Columbus (38-25-4), seeking a franchise-record ninth straight win, the only change is rookie Marko Dano in for veteran Jared Boll in a swap of forwards. Dano was a healthy scratch Thursday against the New York Islanders for the first time in 23 games when Boll returned from a three-game NHL suspension.
Here are the projected lineups:
David Perron- Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz – Daniel Winnik - Blake Comeau
Nick Spaling - Brandon Sutter – Steve Downie
Beau Bennett - Maxim Lapierre - Craig Adams
Paul Martin - Ben Lovejoy
Derrick Pouliot - Ian Cole
Rob Scuderi - Taylor Chorney
Injured: Kris Letang (concussion), Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Olli Maatta (upper body), Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed)
Boone Jenner - Ryan Johansen - Cam Atkinson
Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov - Nick Foligno
Scott Hartnell - Alexander Wennberg – Marko Dano
Matt Calvert - Mark Letestu - Jeremy Morin
Jack Johnson - David Savard
Fedor Tyutin - Dalton Prout
Kevin Connauton - Cody Goloubef
Scratched: Justin Falk, Corey Tropp, Jared Boll
Injured: David Clarkson (oblique), Jack Skille (shoulder), Rene Bourque (back), Ryan Murray (ankle)
Status report: Falk will be a healthy scratch for the 13th straight game after playing three in a row after being obtained by Columbus in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on March 2.
Who’s hot: Johansen has a nine-game points streak (four goals, eight assists). … Johnson has goals in three straight games. … Crosby has two goals and four assists during a four-game points streak. He leads the NHL with 80 points (26-54).