Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist are close to returning from their respective injuries, and there’s a chance one or both of them could be in the lineup on Saturday afternoon against Arizona.
Malkin participated in a full practice on Friday and skated on a line for the first time. If he reacts positively to the session, he said there’s a “great chance” he could play against the Coyotes.
“I feel good,” he said. “I skated the last five days, today the first time with a line. Good full practice, nothing bad and we’ll see tomorrow. A good chance to play.
“If there’s nothing bad tonight, if I don’t feel pain (or) sore(ness), come back in the morning tomorrow and we’ll see. I think it’s a great chance (I’ll) play.”
Hornqvist, who has missed the last five games since suffering an undisclosed injury on March 15 vs. Detroit, said at this point he’s day-to-day and they’ll see how he feels in the morning as well.
“I felt good out there (today),” he said. “I did all the drills, so we’ll see what happens here overnight and then we have a decision tomorrow and see if I’m playing or not. One day at a time and then go from there.”
Malkin has been just as frustrated as many of the fans have been watching the Penguins’ recent play.
He suffered a lower-body injury on March 14 against the Boston Bruins, which was the first game of a stretch where the Pens have lost six of seven. It hasn’t been easy for him watching his team struggle the way they have, especially in their 5-2 setback in Carolina last night.
“We‘re playing so bad right now, it’s true,” Malkin said. “Not just one guy, it’s the whole team. The last game, I think it’s the worst game of the whole season. It’s not fun to watch.
“I want to come back, of course, and we know we have a good team. Maybe it was bad luck yesterday, but we have just eight games before playoffs and everyone wants to play in the playoffs, of course, and the fans do too. Tomorrow is a good chance to win, we play at home. It’s very important, every game right now. … We have 91 points, it’s not enough for playoffs and we should play better, the whole team.”
One of the Pens’ biggest issues has been a lack of offense, as they have scored two or fewer goals in eight of their last 10 games. Going off of that, their power play has scored in just three of their last 12 games, going 3-for-36 over that span.
And as Malkin still ranks eighth in the NHL scoring race with 68 points and leads the team with 28 goals despite missing the last five-plus games, he knows he can provide a much-needed spark in both of those areas.
“I know I can help the team,” he said. “Just play my best game.”
Back on Feb. 21 against the Blues in St. Louis, head coach Mike Johnston switched his lines in an effort to generate more offense – moving Chris Kunitz next to Malkin and putting Hornqvist with Sidney Crosby and David Perron.
The moves worked, as Malkin began a six-game point streak that night. Malkin credited Kunitz with helping him get on track, and he’s hoping to return the favor when he returns as the winger has just one goal in his last 25 games.
“Kuni, he’s a little bit not confident right now. Maybe help him a little bit. He helped me,” Malkin said.
However, Hornqvist cautioned against relying on him and Malkin to be the answer to all of the team’s problems.
“It doesn’t matter if me or ‘Geno’ is in the lineup, we still have to find a way to play the right way every night,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in or who’s out, we know we have a good group of guys and if we do that, we know we can be successful.
“Obviously we’re going through some tough times right now. We can’t really score and all that. But we have a great group of guys in here and we know we can pull it together and it’s for us to show each other what we’re made of and have a good stretch here."
Note: Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and forward Steve Downie were the only two absent players from Friday’s practice. Ehrhoff is still out with an upper-body injury and won’t skate until next week according to Johnston. Downie was given a maintenance day.