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Shoulder injury has weakened Penguins star Malkin's shot

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin plays against the Sabres on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Evgeni Malkin has lost his power.

His shot — so powerful that fellow center Sidney Crosby envies it, so imposing that coach Dan Bylsma encourages it — isn't the weapon it used to be.

Blame a right shoulder that has bothered him since March 9 when a hard hit from Toronto's James van Riemsdyk forced Malkin out of the Penguins' lineup.

Malkin has played in seven games since, and though he practiced with the Penguins on Monday, he feels he's less than a 50-50 bet to play when Montreal visits Consol Energy Center on Wednesday.

His parents, set to arrive from his Russian hometown Magnitogorsk on Tuesday, might not see Malkin at the first Penguins game they are scheduled to attend this season.

“It's tough,” Malkin said, referring to the re-aggravation of his right-shoulder injury — the result of a hit by Tampa Bay's Pierre-Cedric Labrie in the Penguins' win over the Lightning last Thursday.

“I try to play, but it's not how I want. I try to shoot, but I can't shoot hard. If I can't shoot hard, it's tough to play.”

Malkin recorded a season-best eight shots in that win at Tampa Bay, an encouraging follow-up to a six-shot effort in a win at Carolina the previous game.

That production — 14.9 percent of his total shots this season — is more like the MVP version of Malkin, whose other nickname is “The Russian Bully” because, as teammates have explained, he never passes on a shot when on top of his game.

That nickname fit last season, which Malkin ended with a NHL-best 339 shots and, by no coincidence, 50 goals (second overall) and 109 points (first).

Malkin had 133 shots through 28 games last season, notching 15 goals and 40 points along the way.

His 94 shots this season are tied for his second fewest through 28 games, and his eight goals represent his lowest total though as many contests.

Malkin had registered 100 shots to this point in each of the past four seasons prior to this truncated campaign. This season is the second of the past five he has failed to record at least 34 points in his first 28 games.

He averaged only 3.35 shots in the 20 games before the one in which he was leveled by van Riemsdyk. He was at five goals and 21 points before that game.

The Penguins (32-10-0, 64 points) are 11-2-0 without Malkin, who also missed four games because of a concussion. They began Monday with a seven-point lead on Montreal for the Eastern Conference's top playoff seed, which would guarantee them home-ice advantage in any playoff series until the Stanley Cup Final.

That lead in the standings — strengthened by 29 regulation wins (six more than Montreal, seven up on Boston) — has positioned the Penguins with little to play for over the final two weeks of the regular season.

Their objectives, players said Monday after practice, are to maintain a high level of performance and stay healthy.

That last part may appear easier said than done for a squad that has played recently without Crosby (broken jaw), winger James Neal (concussion) and defenseman Paul Martin (broken thumb).

Bylsma said Monday none of his injured players would be inserted into the lineup until they are ready.

That is especially true for Malkin, who said he has learned from previous shoulder-related injuries — his left one was injured at the start of 2006-07 and near the midpoint of 2009-10 — that he must “play confident even if not 100 percent.”

That confidence, Malkin said, will be there when he “can shoot with power.”

“(I'm) not (there) yet,” he said. “I hope soon.”

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

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