It looks like Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin will be in the lineup when the team takes the ice for their season opener against the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
“I feel so much better and I think I will play,” Malkin said.
Malkin said on Tuesday that he had a 50-50 chance of playing. Head coach Mike Johnston gave a much more optimistic assessment Wednesday, though he left a small sliver room for error.
“I would say that there’s a 99-percent chance that he’ll play,” Johnston said.
Malkin, 28, missed all of the team’s six preseason contests due to an undisclosed injury and has only practiced twice in training camp, Tuesday and Wednesday, but Johnston liked what he saw from him.
“Malkin skated today and looked really good,” Johnston said. “If you looked at the drills in practice he looked really good for being off a month.”
Malkin will start the season in an unfamiliar spot. The natural center will shift to right wing, at least at the start of the game, playing with center Brandon Sutter and left wing Pascal Dupuis.
“We talked to coach (Tuesday) and he said we’ll try it,” Malkin said. “Maybe it will work. If not we will switch.”
Malkin is arguably the team’s best natural shooter. By moving from center to right wing Malkin will switch from being a setup man into a finisher. And Malkin, like most European forwards, prefers to play on his offwing.
“I’ve played it before. I like playing right (wing),” Malkin said. “It’s better for me. It’s more of a chance to shoot the puck.”
Part of the thinking behind moving Malkin to wing for the start of the game is to ease his workload and responsibilities at the onset of the season. After all, he is just returning from an injury.
“It’s a matter of managing minutes, managing that grind in the game, the hard minutes,” Johnston said. “It gives him less responsibility down low, grinding it out in our zone, which is really taxing. Sutter is really good in that area. We have flexibility to move within a game or game-to-game with ‘Geno’ as he starts to hit his stride.”