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Penguins notebook: Malkin, Bonino showing signs of progress

| Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, 7:39 p.m.

SUNRISE, Fla. — A phone conversation with Penguins head athletic trainer Chris Stewart left coach Mike Sullivan hopeful the team will arrive back in Pittsburgh and find center Evgeni Malkin close to ready for competition.

“He had a good day today,” Sullivan said of Malkin, who did not travel to Carolina or Florida so he could rehab an unspecified lower-body injury. “He is making progress. … Hopefully he continues to make progress, and he's that much closer. We'll evaluate when we get back after (Monday's) game.”

Malkin, who last practiced Feb. 4, is among several Penguins to show signs of progress in their injury recoveries. But none is close enough for Sullivan to offer an expected return date. Not defenseman David Warsofsky (concussion), who practices with the team. Nor Nick Bonino (hand), whose initial diagnosis after suffering the injury Jan. 12 in Carolina called for him to miss at least a month.

“He's skating,” Sullivan said of Bonino. “He's on the ice, which is good. I think he's getting his skating legs back, and trying to get them in shape that way. But he's on the same timeframe.”

Daddy issue

Not even the upcoming conclusion of the team's trip with players' fathers will get Sullivan to shake up who plays and who gets scratched on game days.

In a departure from a habit his predecessor, Dan Bylsma, supported, Sullivan expressed no interest in plugging a healthy-scratch regular such as Ian Cole or backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff into the lineup Monday as a nod to the presence of the players' dads.

“The lineup decisions that we make are what we feel give us the best chance to win,” Sullivan said. “That's the priority. That's the business that we're in. That will never change. We're trying to win games here. We're trying to climb in the standings.”

Kessel's cut

After a skate came up and caught him near his chest, Phil Kessel briefly went to the locker room during Friday's win over Carolina.

Following Sunday's practice, the winger shrugged about the incident.

“I'm all right,” he said. “Just a little cut. That's it.”

Kessel's skate scare happened to coincide with perhaps his best game of the season. He tied a season high with seven shots on goal and ranked among the team's best in terms of possession metrics.

“I just think I had chances to shoot the puck more the last game that I had than a lot of games this year,” he said.

Figuring out Fleury

An odd trend has aligned, perhaps purely by chance, with the Penguins' recent hot streak, dating to the start of their stretch of four consecutive wins.

During their past nine games (7-2), when they allowed at least 30 shots on goal, they went 5-0. When they held their opponent below 30, their record was 2-2, and one of those wins was 6-5 over Ottawa.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who started all but one of those nine games, previously joked about wanting to stay busy with shots. But some of the recent results suggested he maybe meant it.

“It's fun to get some action right away,” he said. “You feel involved right away. If you wait there, you get a little cold. It's maybe easier physically, mentally if you get everything going quickly. But if not, you've got to find ways to stay focused and alert.

“(Results) always depend on scoring chances. I think people always look at shots, but sometimes you have 40 shots and no breakaways, no two-on-ones. That makes the game a lot simpler.”

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

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