Penguins' Malkin practices with contact, still no target for return
Nine players missed practice for the Penguins on Sunday.
The most valuable Penguin was not among that group of absentees.
Center Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's reigning MVP, practiced with teammates at Southpointe Iceoplex a week after he was diagnosed with a concussion.
He will not play against Tampa Bay at Consol Energy Center on Monday night, but Malkin said his first brush with contact since the concussion left him feeling “pretty good.”
“I (had) a good practice, but I need a couple more,” Malkin said.
“(Sunday) was not hard, just tough a little bit. (I) pushed my back and shoulders. I feel pretty good. We'll see the next step.”
Cleared Sunday by the Penguins' medical staff for return-to-contact status, Malkin participated in three drills that involved physicality, coach Dan Bylsma said.
Malkin had not taken a baseline cognitive examination as of Sunday morning, Bylsma said. NHL protocol calls for players diagnosed with a concussion to pass a version of that exam before gaining return-to-play status.
The Penguins use the ImPACT test, which was originated by the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
The Penguins (14-8-0, 28 points) remain first in the Atlantic Division despite going 2-2-0 in games missed by Malkin, who was injured on a collision into the end-zone board at Consol Energy Center on Feb. 22.
Malkin said Sunday that he is not experiencing short-term memory loss or headache — two of many symptoms commonly associated with a concussion — and that he was not upset by the hit from Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson that preceded his fall and crash into the boards.
“I (watched) it 10 times; (it was) no penalty,” Malkin said, adding that he lost balance while trying to shoot the puck near the goal crease.
“I just (lost) my position. Short ice, you know — and I hit the boards.”
Malkin had not spoken publicly since he was injured.
Now that there are no fears his concussion is similar to the one that kept captain Sidney Crosby from playing all but eight games from Jan. 6, 2011, to March 15, 2012, the Penguins could look back upon Malkin's injury as an unintended positive.
He played in 37 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League during the NHL lockout, and had played in each of the Penguins' 18 contests before his injury.
Off to a slow start with four goals and 21 points — the latter a total that rated ninth in the NHL at the time — Malkin use this break to refocus. He has said he was drained emotionally by the experience of again playing with his hometown team in the KHL.
After facing the Lightning, the Penguins are at Philadelphia on Thursday, at Toronto on Saturday and home against the New York Islanders on Sunday.
They will play at least one of those games without defenseman Paul Martin, too.
He tested a lower-body injury during a pre-practice skate with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. Martin is day-to-day, Bylsma said.
The other eight players who didn't practice Sunday are among the Penguins' top scorers, including Crosby and wingers Chris Kunitz and James Neal. All are expected to play against Tampa Bay.
“A number of guys were held off the ice because of bumps and bruises and just given the schedule,” Bylsma said.