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Minus Malkin, Penguins' offense, power play lacking some firepower

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 11:32 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ (from left) Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin celebrate Malkin’s third-period goal against the Lightning on Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Evgeni Malkin had nothing to say Thursday.

His Penguins teammates cannot wait to hear his unmistakable banter — loud, short sentences broken up by curse words — during a game.

That especially goes for members of a top power-play unit that has produced one goal in five games.

“He brings a completely different element to the power play,” left winger Chris Kunitz said.

The wait for Kunitz and others may end Friday night.

Malkin has not been ruled out for a game against the Islanders at New York. He has missed the last six games with a shoulder injury and played in only three of the past 13 contests.

Coach Dan Bylsma declined to elaborate on Malkin's status after an hour-long practice at Consol Energy Center on Thursday. Officially, Malkin remains day-to-day.

The Penguins are 8-2-0 without the two-time scoring champion and reigning MVP.

Malkin is missed, though.

“I don't think we've had an in-zone shooting mentality, an attacking mentality, in his absence, and I think we need to establish it,” Bylsma said, specifically addressing what the power play has lacked without Malkin.

Added Kunitz: “Everybody knows we want to get pucks through, look for lanes and have guys shoot. Geno's good at finding that lane and wanting to shoot. Maybe that's something we lack when he's not out there.”

The Penguins are 4 for 18 (22.2 percent) on the power play without Malkin over the last six games. They have averaged five shots on the power play in those contests.

Overall, the Penguins were second with 28 goals on 115 power plays (24.4 percent) as of Thursday, but they are 7 for 31 (22.6 percent) in 10 games without Malkin.

The Penguins' lone recent power-play goal from their top unit — a group that includes center Sidney Crosby (50 points), Chris Kunitz and right winger James Neal (35 combined goals) — was scored by defenseman Paul Martin on Tuesday in a home win over Washington.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen played a role, as Bylsma noted.

Playing the off-side point — Niskanen is a right-handed shot — because of defenseman Kris Letang's groin injury, Niskanen was trigger happy against the Capitals.

Resulting zone possession led to quick puck movement. Crosby eventually found Martin wide open high near the mid-point, and Martin mashed a shot past Capitals goalie Braden Holtby.

A similar sequence, no matter if the finish is a goal, would please Bylsma for upcoming games against the Islanders and Philadelphia, clubs that each contributed to two of the Penguins' eight losses.

Inserting Malkin into the lineup could boost the Penguins, who are at some point due for a letdown from these10 consecutive wins. It also could boost Neal, who has gone 16 periods without a goal.

His power-play shots have decreased during Malkin's absence, Bylsma noted.

Neal scored three goals in as many games during Malkin's return from a concussion March 4-9. In the 10 games Malkin has missed, Neal has only two goals.

“I would be more alarmed if his production hadn't dropped off,” Bylsma said. “You're talking about (in Malkin) the best player in the game, an MVP.”

The Penguins have seen Malkin practice the last three days — the last two while taking contact. They would like to hear him talk Friday night.

They know he will bring more than words.

NOTE: Letang skated under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar before the Penguins' practice. His session lasted 47 minutes and it went smoothly aside from an early slide into the boards after his skate blade caught a rut in the ice. Letang said he went hard into the boards, but he was not hurt. He is day-to-day with the lower-body injury.

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