COMMENTARY | The Pittsburgh Penguins haven't lost a game this month. They have, however, lost a few key players along the way.
That could change as soon as this weekend.
Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, both currently out of the lineup due to shoulder and lower-body injuries, respectively, took part in Wednesday's off-day skate and have been listed by the team as day-to-day.
"In terms of an injury update, Kris Letang skated this morning prior to the optional skate, and Evgeni Malkin skated with the optional skate," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday, March 20.
"We saw [Malkin] in practice today, he did have some contact drills. Both will be day-to-day at this point."
The Pens have played their last six games without Malkin, who suffered a shoulder injury after colliding with Toronto's James van Riemsdyk along the boards in a 6-5 shootout win March 9.
Malkin was injured in the third period of that game and did not participate in overtime or the shootout. He has been out of the lineup ever since. However, Malkin has participated in contact drills for each of the last two days after working individually with Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar for some time.
"Yeah, he had some [contact in Tuesday's skate] and then again going out there today, and doing that was a sign that yesterday went well," Bylsma said. "He handled it fine out there, we'll see how he reacts as we go forward."
Said Malkin of the contact drills, "[They weren't] hard ... just [to] push my back and shoulder, and every day is better, for sure. But I'm not skating 100 percent and it's ... probably tough to say now."
Malkin had previously stated that he hoped to return as soon as Friday's date with the New York Islanders or a Sunday, March 24 evening tilt with the Flyers, but that he still isn't fully healed since suffering his injury.
"[I'll] try to play Friday ... it's hard to say now. Just a couple days more and we'll see.
"I'm excited because I miss my team ... it's a hard time right now, but [I'm staying] positive and hope to play soon."
Malkin previously missed two-plus games after sustaining a concussion in a game against the Florida Panthers in late-February.
He's currently fifth on the team with 24 points (5-19) in 21 games.
Letang, the Pens' fourth-leading scorer (3-25-28) and the top point-getter amongst all NHL defensemen, missed Tuesday's home date against the Washington Capitals after sustaining a lower-body injury March 17 against the Bruins.
The nature and severity of Letang's injury isn't specifically known, but that he has been listed as day-to-day is good news for the Pens.
Getting one or both of these players back into the lineup will be icing on the cake for Pittsburgh, which has won 10 consecutive contests en route to first place in the Eastern Conference and a 14-point lead in the Atlantic Division over the second-place New York Rangers.
Given the Penguins' cushion in the standings, Malkin and Letang should be given all the time they need to recovery fully.
James Conley covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and is an Editor at SB Nation's Pensburgh. He owns the Pittsburgh sports blog Slew Footers and has attended Penguins home games with credentials.
Audio and quotes courtesy Jason Seidling & Pittsburgh Penguins.
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