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Penguins notebook: Malkin return delayed again

| Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, 5:51 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin plays against the SenatorsTuesday, Feb. 2, 2016 at Consol Energy Center.

Center Evgeni Malkin's return to the Penguins lineup will have to wait at least another two games.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Malkin skated on his own before Friday's practice and continues to make progress toward a return from a lower-body injury that's kept him out since Feb. 2, but he won't play in games against Tampa Bay on Saturday and Buffalo on Sunday.

“We have not made the decision yet for him to join the team in practice, and that's obviously the next step for him,” Sullivan said.

The Penguins aren't scheduled to practice again until Tuesday morning. They play at Boston on Wednesday night.

Kids day

With about 6,000 in attendance for the team's annual school kids practice, Consol Energy Center was far louder and more vibrant than it is for the average skate. Winger Bryan Rust embraced the atmosphere, raising his stick to the crowd after shooting a puck into an empty net.

“Kids are out there smiling, yelling, cheering, having a good time,” Rust said. “I just try to go out there and maybe if I score a goal, celebrate a little bit. Flip some pucks to them and cause some chaos in the stands.”

Rust said he never had a chance to take a field trip to a Detroit Red Wings practice when he was growing up in Michigan.

“That's something I would have been for,” he said. “Sure beats going to the museum or something like that.”

Sidney Crosby said the most similar memory from his childhood was when players from the Halifax Mooseheads junior team paid a visit to his elementary school.

“It was actually Alex Tanguay that came to my school,” Crosby said. “I still remember that. Hopefully these kids will remember this.”

Practice plan

In an effort to entertain the kids, the Penguins held a shootout contest at the end of Friday's skate.

A practice staple during the Dan Bylsma era, the Penguins haven't worked on the shootout much under Sullivan.

Sullivan said the Penguins have limited practice time, and in his experience, working on the shootout doesn't usually translate to success in games.

“With the shootout, it's hard to simulate the pressure. That's the difference between the practice environment and the game environment,” Sullivan said. “These guys are all gifted players. They all have great moves. They all can shoot the puck. The question is, can you do it under pressure when that circumstance arrives in the game? It's hard to practice that.”

The upset winner of Friday, incidentally, was winger Sergei Plotnikov, who was the only player to score on back-to-back attempts. Plotnikov has no goals in 32 games this season.

Lightning strikes

The Penguins remain one of the NHL's top defensive teams, ranking ninth at 2.50 goals against per game. The Lightning, however, seem to have their number. Tampa Bay has scored 11 goals in two meetings with the Penguins this season.

“We have to defend harder,” Sullivan said. “I think we have to try to generate some of our offense off of our defense and not get into a chance-for-chance game. When you get into that mindset, you may win some, but you're going to lose some, too.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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