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Malkin inching back to Penguins' lineup, skates with team

| Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, 1:54 p.m.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin skates the ice during their 5-1 victory over the Bruins on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

Evgeni Malkin on Monday left the Penguins coaching staff encouraged about the state of his lower-body injury. Then, with some thoughts about his absence from the NHL's 100 greatest players list, he erased the chance for any media speculation about a bruised ego.

Malkin, who missed the Penguins' last four games, rejoined the team for practice in a no-contact capacity at PPG Paints Arena and stayed on the ice for extra work long after the majority of the skaters headed to the dressing room.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Malkin has not been cleared for contact and will not play Tuesday when the Penguins host Calgary. But the center, who rotated in during line rush drills and power-play sessions, considered the practice “a step forward” after training on his own during the last several days.

“It's hard skating by myself, for sure,” Malkin said. “It's so fun to play a game. ... I want to be back soon, but (I must) be careful because it's not ready. It's day-by-day.”

The timing of Malkin's injury kept him out of NHL All-Star festivities, where the league announced its list of its 100 greatest players. He consequently was not available to share his thoughts.

Everyone involved with the organization, including owner Mario Lemieux, suggested Malkin deserved inclusion on the list. But Malkin — a two-time Stanley Cup champion and winner of the Calder, Art Ross, Conn Smythe, Hart trophies — never mentioned disrespect when he addressed the issue.

“I try to forget,” he said. “I mean, I'm proud about what the team say, what Mario say. I'm proud that my family, fans and my friends, they support me.

“I did my best. What can I do? Nothing. All 100 players is legends. They deserve this list. Maybe I win a couple more trophies, a couple more Stanley Cups, and maybe next year, NHL 101 years, maybe they send me a black jacket and I will be number 101.”

Hagelin's head trouble

Sullivan confirmed Carl Hagelin suffered a concussion in Saturday's win in St. Louis and began the recovery process Monday when he skated on his own. The Penguins will watch how Hagelin responds to the exercise and proceed accordingly Tuesday.

‘You Can Play' Day

The Penguins will support LGBTQ inclusiveness Tuesday when they host a “You Can Play” event that coincides with their game against Calgary at PPG Paints Arena.

Every NHL team named an ambassador for the “You Can Play” project, and Chris Kunitz received that designation for the Penguins.

“I think everybody needs to step up and maybe change the culture from years past,” Kunitz said. “They might've put my name to it, but I think everyone in here is someone who's willing to support it.

“Some of the verbiage and the things (hockey) people say, I think people are aware now of how hurtful things can be when they're said. Maybe 20, 30 years ago, it was a different type of locker room, but now the conversation has changed for the positive.”

The Penguins, who will auction off sticks used during pre-game warm-ups to help raise money for the cause, chose the Flames for “You Can Play” night because of the advocacy organization's connection to Calgary president of hockey operations Brian Burke and his sons. Burke's son, Brendan, came out in 2009 and died in an auto accident months later. Patrick Burke, the NHL's director of player safety, founded “You Can Play” in 2012 as a tribute to his brother.

Super Bowl spectacle

After he watched media members swarm New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady within seconds of the Super Bowl's end Sunday, Penguins center Nick Bonino chimed in on Twitter about the small window of time athletes get to cherish championships strictly with their teammates.

“Would be nice if the team could celebrate together for even one minute,” Bonino wrote.

Fortunately for the Penguins, the tradition of carrying and passing the Stanley Cup remains sacred.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “We had our own circle. You hugged everyone on the team.

“It was funny (with the Super Bowl), before they even knew it if it was a touchdown, there were 12 media people around Brady, and he was saying. ‘Hold on. Let's see what the replay shows.' Just as an athlete, it's a lot of fun. I'm sure they have their own celebrations with the team. But I know that feeling of being just with the guys for those 10 minutes afterwards was pretty cool.”

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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