Malkin declares knee '100 percent ready'
When he gets back into the Penguins' lineup, center Evgeni Malkin must take another step in his NHL career if he is to rejoin the conversation about the sport's finest players.
This pace he's been on dating to the start of last season - 32 goals and 85 points for an 82-game campaign - isn't one befitting an $8.7-million former scoring champion and playoff MVP, even if nagging injuries have contributed to his decreased production since back-to-back 100-point seasons.
"That's part of playing in the NHL - you're rarely at 100 percent," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Dealing with that and playing your best given those circumstances is a challenge a lot of players go through on a yearly basis, and that's been a challenge for Geno."
Showing no signs of being hindered by a bum left knee - and, in fact, pronouncing that lingering injury "100 percent ready" - Malkin practiced yesterday with the Penguins at Consol Energy Center.
However, a weeks-old sinus infection for which he has been on prescription medication will keep him from playing tonight against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
This game will mark the fourth consecutive he has missed because of the sinus condition, and the ninth overall. Five previous absences were linked to a left knee that was injured, though not structurally damaged, in October.
He missed 15 games last season because of a lingering shoulder injury and a bruised foot. In 67 games, he produced 28 goals and 77 points.
He has scored 15 goals and 37 points in 42 games this season.
Before an injury-plagued 1 1⁄2 seasons, Malkin had played in 242 straight games, totaling 115 goals and 304 points in those contests.
At 24 and only in his fifth season, he is hardly the first young player possessing elite skill to struggle to find a rhythm while battling injuries.
"The everyday staying on top of little injuries - yeah, you have to take that next step; when you're at home get in here a couple of hours early and get some treatment," right wing Pascal Dupuis said.
"Young kids come into this game with a lot of talent, but when people say, 'They don't know the game yet,' they mean the little parts - what injuries you can play with; what injuries you need to take care of; when you need to rest; how you need to take care of your body, basically."
Dupuis said he "sees signs" Malkin is learning those lessons.
Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato, a veteran of 774 games and scorer of 248 goals, guessed "the majority of guys playing today, especially midseason, are playing with something that's restricting them from reaching their full potential."
"It's all about your legs in today's game. As long as you can stay energized with your legs and the injury isn't affecting your skating, you've got a chance."
If that assessment proves true, a dominant Malkin might be coming back to the Penguins.
"I'm (feeling) all right," he said, adding that he will no longer wear a thin brace on the left knee, as he had since October.
"I'm not talking (about the) knee because it's 100 percent ready."Additional Information:
Penguins game day
7 p.m. today
Madison Square Garden
TV/radio: Versus/WXDX-FM (105.9_ and the Penguins Radio Network
Season series: Rangers lead, 2-1-0. The Penguins have lost twice at Consol Energy Center -- 3-2 in a shootout Nov. 15, and 4-1 on Dec. 15. They won at New York, 3-1, on Nov. 29.
Pens streak: Won 2
Who to watch: Center Brian Boyle leads the Rangers with 18 goals. He has scored a goal and delivered 10 hits in the three games against the Penguins.
Trends: Right wing Mats Zuccarello has recorded 11 points in 17 games since his recall from the AHL in December. ... Right wing Brandon Prust has scored two goals in four games. ... Right wing Ryan Callahan (left hand) is expected to play. He has not played since Dec. 15, when he was injured blocking a shot in the Rangers' win at Consol Energy Center.
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