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Sore foot sidelines Malkin vs. Devils

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- If the sight of the Penguins practicing this morning at Prudential Center without Evgeni Malkin wasn't enough evidence, then the jerseys hanging in the stall with No. 71 on it in the visitor's dressing room gave away the secret.

Malkin (sore right foot) will not play for the Penguins on Wednesday when they try to avoid going winless against New Jersey in the season series between the Atlantic Division rivals. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma hopes Malkin can play Thursday in Boston.

"He's day-to-day and obviously wasn't able to get on the ice this morning," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Malkin, who has 69 points in 62 games this season. "He's trying to get his skate on, trying to get on the ice and dealing with a bruise. I'm still hopeful that he is day-to-day and (Thursday) he'll be in."

Malkin, who was injured Sunday when Kris Letang's wayward slap shot during a second-period power play caught him in the foot, put on his skates and tried to take a few twirls on the ice before the Penguins practiced. He took about three strides and realized it was a useless attempt.

The Penguins were 2-5-0 from Oct. 30-Nov. 12 when Malkin was out with a right shoulder strain. They lost their fourth game in a row during that stretch right here in Newark on Nov. 12 by a 4-1 margin.

"It doesn't make it any easier, but if anything maybe that will simplify things," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of not having Malkin. "When you see guys go out most of the time guys are stepping up and they surprise you sometimes with the way they raise the level of their play. It's a little bit of adversity for us, but it's a good test."

The Penguins were off Monday and Malkin didn't practice Tuesday, but Crosby said the team arrived in New Jersey hopeful Malkin was going to play. It wasn't until Wednesday morning when they hit the ice did they realize he likely was out.

"I don't think it's something that we really were preparing for," Crosby said. "This morning, once we got out there, we had to adjust accordingly."

Without Malkin, Bylsma had to tinker with lines that he liked. Alexei Ponikarovsky is in the process of developing chemistry with Malkin, but it's likely he starts tonight's game on Crosby's line, with Pascal Dupuis joining them on the right wing.

"I think it's easy to play with Alex; he has to adjust to playing with Geno (Malkin) and other centermen," Bylsma said. "He's going to drive the net, end up in the corners, be on the forecheck and work. It takes a little bit to read off Geno and how he plays. I think Sid is a little more straight-line type of guy and a little like Geno in the offensive zone so that might take a bit in terms of where he is slotted tonight. He's going to create room for his centerman, that's what we do know."

Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, who typically are Crosby's linemates, practiced Tuesday with Jordan Staal. Ruslan Fedotenko, who had been playing on Malkin's line with Ponikarovsky, could be on the third line with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke.

No matter how Bylsma deploys his forwards, they are going to have to find a way to crack the Devils' defense, which will include Paul Martin for the first time since Oct. 24 -- and, of course, Martin Brodeur.

The future Hall of Fame goalie, who exactly one year ago broke Patrick Roy's all-time wins record with No. 552, is 5-0 with a miniscule 0.60 goals-against average, a remarkable .981 save percentage and two shutouts against the Penguins this season.

The Devils have outscored Pittsburgh, 17-3.

"It's been a factor for us, getting to our game and staying on our game and playing that game no matter what happens," Bylsma said. "No matter what the situation is in our room or outside our room, opponent or frustration level, we have to be willing to play our game. That's something we have been better at, but something we have not yet done against this team in particular."

They'll have to do it without one of the best players in the world.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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