Kunitz's injury spurs top-line switch
The Penguins replaced one injured winger with another during practice yesterday morning, but that swap may not hold up for an Atlantic Division showdown with the Flyers at Philadelphia tonight.
Center Evgeni Malkin, out the past four games with a sore left knee, skated with center Sidney Crosby and winger Pascal Dupuis at Southpointe Iceoplex. Left wing Chris Kunitz did not practice, and coach Dan Bylsma labeled him as "day to day" because of undisclosed injuries from a win at Buffalo on Saturday night.
"He's banged up," Bylsma said of Kunitz.
The Penguins would welcome the return of Malkin, who said he was "50-50" to play tonight against the Flyers as they try to extend a winning streak to 13 games and even the season series with their intrastate rival.
Malkin has scored 15 goals and recorded 41 points in 29 career games against the Flyers, though prior to this recent absence he had notched only five goals in 18 previous games overall.
"I (skated) pretty hard," he said of practice. "It's tough. I (don't) like watching games. I like to play, but I understand we need rest because my knee was sore before."
Malkin said a decision about his status for this game will be made after a morning practice today. Bylsma said Malkin could play on the top line if he dresses and Kunitz does not.
The Penguins will play only once more at Philadelphia after tonight - unless they face the Flyers in the playoffs for a third time in four postseasons.
Crosby joked about the difference between Philadelphia playoff crowds and ones during the holiday season.
"A little more Christmas cheer, I guess, in December," he said, laughing. "No, I don't feel the difference. It could be December, March or October. It usually feels the same."
Flyers fans are famously harsh toward Crosby, filling Wells Fargo Center with expletive-filled chants and jeering him every time he nears or touches the puck.
He is on an 18-game point streak, with 20 goals and 36 points over that span. He scored twice in a win at Philadelphia on Oct. 16 - the Penguins' lone victory in three games against the Flyers.
His career totals against the Flyers: 26 goals and 60 points in 35 games.
The Penguins (44 points) and Flyers (43) were first and second overall as of yesterday, with each club living up to its preseason billing as an Eastern Conference favorite.
The bitter rivals have earned points as a dizzying rate since their previous game at Philadelphia. They've combined for a 35-9-5 mark since to take 75 of 98 possible points available.
"Regardless of where both teams are at (in the standings), this one always has a little intensity to it," Bylsma said, adding that the clubs' 1-2 spots in the overall NHL standings "makes (this game) a little more interesting."
Around the boards
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named the NHL's No. 2 star for last week. He was 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. He is 13-1-0 in his past 14 appearances to match a career-best 15 games without a regulation loss. ... Flyers forward John Shelley was suspended for two games because of a hit from behind to Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid on Saturday.
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