For the fifth game in a row the Pittsburgh Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was hurt the last time the Pens and Tampa Bay Lightning met, a 4-2 win for Pittsburgh on January 30th that was one of their last best games in a while.
Malkin was able to practice with the team yesterday but won’t play tonight.
“Pretty good practice for me,” Malkin said. “Injuries are always boring, always slow, step by step. But I hope I come back soon. I’ve already missed four games, it’s a lot for me. I want to play. I’m hungry. Work hard every day, but it’s a little bit slow. But I hope I’m back soon.”
He hasn’t ruled himself out for Monday’s game in Philadelphia which is a good sign.
Justin Schultz also won’t play tonight but every day is a day closer to finally making his return to the lineup.
“You don’t want to rush this and come back too soon,” Schultz said. “It’s a pretty serious injury, so just trying to feel better every day and get to 100 percent.”
Matt Murray’s injury must have been very short-term, he skated on Friday and said he could be back very soon. Since Tristan Jarry is on emergency recall he will be sent to the AHL if Murray is healthy enough to at least serve as the backup, so that will be a tell.
Also skating with the team but in a no-contact jersey was Zach Aston-Reese who has been out since a fight on January 8th.
With all those players at practice, a visible absence was Kris Letang. Fortunately, coach Mike Sullivan would classify it as a “maintenance day” which in Sullivan-speak means Letang was needing a day off on Friday but should be able to play in a game tonight.
Since Tampa and Pittsburgh played last week, the Lightning are 2-0-2 but have lost their last two games (in a shootout to Vegas on Tuesday and in OT to St. Louis on Thursday). On defense Tampa has really cracked down - they gave four goals to the Pens but have only surrendered five goals in the last four games (not counting the shootout).
On the flip side of the coin though, Tampa has only scored five goals in the last four games as well, which is a pretty pronounced slump for a team that was averaging four goals per game in the 2018-19 season.
Nikita Kucherov still leads the league with 81 points, though Connor McDavid (80) is closing in pretty quickly.
Game is at 7:00 eastern, see you then!