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Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 9:42 p.m.
 

Some teammates spied Evgeni Malkin walking normally late Friday night.

That was a far greater development for the Penguins than their 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers at Consol Energy Center.

Malkin, the reigning MVP and a two-time scoring champion, did not return after hitting the back of his head hard off the end-zone boards with 15:09 remaining in the third period.

Coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin will be re-evaluated Saturday, though Bylsma also noted Malkin left the ice “on his own accord.”

If they are to play a stretch without Malkin — and there was no indication Friday night if he would be available against Tampa Bay on Sunday night — at least the Penguins remain deep at the center position despite trading Jordan Staal last summer.

Bylsma said Brandon Sutter, acquired in the Staal trade to Carolina, would fill Malkin's spot as the second-line center alongside James Neal, a right winger, and rookie left winger Beau Bennett.

Dustin Jeffrey, who played in his sixth game Friday night and scored his first goal, would anchor a third line with Matt Cooke on the left wing and Tyler Kennedy on the right, Bylsma said.

“Hopefully it doesn't come to that,” Neal said of the Penguins needing to shuffle their regular lines because of a potential injury to Malkin.

Neither Neal nor any Penguins players took issue with Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who raced Malkin to the spot in the Florida zone where Malkin was upended and slid back-first into the boards.

Neal noted that Malkin had entered the zone with great speed, darting toward the crease near the goal line.

The game tied 1-1, Gudbranson simply was making what players commonly call “a hockey play.”

“I just finished my check,” Gudbranson said. “You never want to see a guy go down. He's in a vulnerable position. But you can't pass up a hit.

“It's unfortunate that he got hurt on the play, but it's one I'd take every time.”

Malkin spent more than a minute on the ice. Sidney Crosby said he did not believe Gudbranson delivered “too late of a hit.”

Added Neal: “Geno's going with good speed to make a move. Tough hit. It's just a dangerous spot.”

Malkin, who assisted on left winger Chris Kunitz's tying goal in the second period, was not available for comment, per team rules.

With only four goals, Malkin has not dominated as he did last season when he returned from surgery to repair torn knee ligaments and scored 50 goals en route to leading the NHL with 109 points.

However, Malkin's 21 points have him among the top 10 scorers, and he is second on the Penguins to only Crosby's 25.

The Penguins (12-6-0, 24 points) are benefitting from defensive scoring this season, getting 11 goals from defensemen.

Defensemen scored only 26 goals in 82 games for the Penguins last season.

Matt Niskanen's third goal — just over a couple of minutes after Malkin left the game — somehow eluded the glove of Panthers rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom, who, to that point, had managed to snag every high shot.

“I wasn't trying to shoot high-glove or anything,” Niskanen said. “I was trying to shoot it off his pad. Sometimes, those go in.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin stuggles to get up after going into the boards hard in the third period against the Panthers on Friday Feb. 22, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin stuggles to get up after going into the boards hard in the third period against the Panthers on Friday Feb. 22, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Penguins celebrates Matt Niskanen's third period goal against the Panthers Friday Feb. 22, 2013 at Consol Energy Center.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Penguins celebrates Matt Niskanen's third period goal against the Panthers Friday Feb. 22, 2013 at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik takes down the Panthers' Tomas Fleischmann in the second period Feb. 2, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik takes down the Panthers' Tomas Fleischmann in the second period Feb. 2, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Penguins' Beau Bennett just misses the net against the Panthers on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Penguins' Beau Bennett just misses the net against the Panthers on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Penguins' Chris Kunitz beats Panthers goaltender Jacob Makstrom for a second-period goal Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Penguins' Chris Kunitz beats Panthers goaltender Jacob Makstrom for a second-period goal Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.
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