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Penguins star center Malkin tests injured foot with skating sessions

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin has been limited to 60 games this season.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 1:57 p.m.
 

More than two weeks since his most recent game and a little more than one week until the playoffs begin, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin returned to the ice for light skating Monday and Tuesday.

Malkin, out since March 23 because of a foot injury, was cleared to skate after being evaluated by a physician. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin skated on his own Monday and was accompanied by injured forward Joe Vitale when he skated at Southpointe on Tuesday prior to Penguins practice.

“Evgeni Malkin did have his doctor's appointment, and he did progress to the point of skating lightly,” Bylsma said after practice Tuesday. “There is no timetable at this point in time on his (return to game action from) injury.”

A two-time former NHL scoring champion, Malkin has been limited to 60 games this season. Even so, he has 23 goals and 49 assists to rank 14th in the league with 72 points heading into Tuesday's games. Malkin is tied for ninth in the NHL in assists and is second to teammate Sidney Crosby in points per game (1.20).

The injury is the third this season that has prevented Malkin from playing. A lower-body injury kept him out of two early-December games. Malkin then returned to play in three games, and then missed the following eight because of a left-leg injury.

Bylsma said rushing Malkin back to appear in a regular-season game before the playoffs begin next week is not a priority. Last season, Crosby sat out 13 consecutive games — the final 12 of the regular season and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Islanders — but appeared to seamlessly step back into the lineup for Game 2 with two goals.

Malkin scored at least one goal in his first game back each of the previous two times he was injured this season.

“It's really what's best for the injured player, and you don't want to come back too soon just to say he played one or two or three games (before the playoffs),” Bylsma said.

“I think we've seen that with some of the other injured players around the league. It's what's best for the individual, what gives him the best chance to be healthy — the most healthy — going into the playoffs.”

Like Malkin, Vitale (middle-body injury) recently had been seen by a doctor before being cleared to skate. Vitale hasn't played since March 20.

With Malkin and Marcel Goc (foot) out, the Penguins have been forced to play Jussi Jokinen at center. Without Malkin as his center, forward James Neal has one goal in eight games. Linemate Jokinen has one goal and three assists in the seven games — he missed Saturday's game at Minnesota — without Malkin.

The Penguins were averaging 3.06 goals per game this season when Malkin injured his foot but have been limited to 2.13 since.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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