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Penguins practice update: Evgeni Malkin absent from team as busy stretch about to begin

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The Pens don’t think they’ll be without Evgeni Malkin for too long, but his return doesn’t look immediate either

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Evgeni Malkin, injured last Wednesday in a game against Tampa, still wasn’t with the team when they practiced this morning at UPMC Lemieux.

Malkin and Zach Aston-Reese both did skate prior to the team, which they have been doing lately.

Justin Schultz remained in a no-contact jersey (update: he did take contact today!) and go time in with the second power play group today, an excellent sign and another further step to take as he ramps up for his return from a broken leg.

“I missed a lot of time,” Schultz said in response to potentially playing Tuesday night vs. Carolina. “I’m still working. It’s going to take more than one full contact practice. It feels good. It was a big step today, and everything feels fine. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow morning. This (injury) is different. Obviously, it’s a lot longer of a time frame. I’ve never had a (long-term) injury like this. It’s difficult to be patient. You want to be out there with the guys. It just takes time.”

With Malkin’s return not looking imminent, Pittsburgh is about to begin on a stretch of five games in nine days start tomorrow. From the above notes, could Schultz’s return be as soon as some point on the upcoming three game road trip? Wouldn’t bet against it at this rate if all keeps going well.

The Pens didn’t think they would be without Malkin for long but he’s now going on a week out and in real danger of missing his third straight game tomorrow night. With a scheduling rhythm about to begin to have a game-every-other-day, it wouldn’t take too much time for a bunch of missed games to go flying by.

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As you can see, the Pens are also making their Florida swing after tomorrow’s game, and of course it will be interesting to see the Panthers on Thursday for how Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann as well as Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan fare against their respective former teams.

Brassard is gone, but don’t think he’s out of your life as Pittsburgh fan forever. There’s a decent chance he will get moved, potentially to a team the Pens could see in the playoffs at some point.

Granted if Brass plays like he did as a Penguin, there’s nothing to worry about. But one would think he would have a lot of motivation to show out against a team he didn’t have success, so we’ll see as soon as later this week how he responds and how much of an impact on the game he will have playing against Pittsburgh. Just like this whole saga, it figures to be a fascinating development.

Speaking of the division, always a good time to check in on the standings this time of year. My focus at this point is mainly on the division and how the jockeying between the Islanders, Capitals and Blue Jackets is going.

NYI aside, the top teams have been slumping a bit in these last few weeks. Pittsburgh is 2-2-0 after the All-Star break, but that’s better than ‘Lumbus’ 0-3-0 and on par with Washington’s 1-1-0 results after the bye weeks.

Tomorrow’s game is critical for Carolina - if they have any hopes of climbing into the thick of the playoff race they need to beat teams like Pittsburgh in regulation.

Also have a chuckle at the Flyers winning seven straight to start seriously torpedoing their draft odds and stock. They can’t even be bad correctly. But the Pens will see them and hotshot young goalie Carter Hart two times in the coming weeks, so that matchup as always will be interesting, and they are playing good hockey which will make for intense games.