The Penguins hit the ice for practice on Thursday, and Evgeni Malkin was once again with them in a non-contact white jersey.
Geno on the move. - DP pic.twitter.com/RTZJtkrerz— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) December 16, 2021
Malkin played with the second power play group, and today even jumped on Sidney Crosby’s wing for a few line rushes in drills. Seemingly every day he has been adding more aspects of involvement, which leaves the unavoidable question for coach Mike Sullivan as one word: when? When will Malkin be back in the lineup?
Here is today’s answer.
Sullivan: "There's a process that Geno's going through. ... He's going through a process that we need to see through. ... The limitations on what he can and can't do are increasingly getting less and less. That, to me, is a real indicator that he's getting closer." #Pens— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) December 16, 2021
Nothing concrete from Sullivan, to be expected. He said earlier in Malkin’s rehab the team has a timeline and a window where he might play, but the Penguins would not be sharing the exact timeline so there would be no panic or further questions if Malkin wasn’t able to return just as soon as the window opens. Officially, Malkin was deemed by GM Ron Hextall as out for “at least two months” to start the season, and little else has been said.
For now, though, the eyes don’t lie as Malkin navigates the ice looking pretty close to full form. He’s “getting closer” by the day and doesn’t seem too long before he will be able to make his season debut, but just when that will be remains a mystery.
Typically in the rehab process, Malkin would need to upgrade to a normal jersey and be classified as a full-contact participant, even though, there’s usually not much intentional physical contact to speak of in NHL in-season practices as it is. That and more increased role in practices like playing center and joining the top power play will be more clear signs as the return draws even closer.
Here were the lines today, with Brian Boyle not appearing on the ice.
Here is the Penguins' workflow with Boyle absent:— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) December 16, 2021
* Malkin did a few reps on the top line with Crosby and Kapanen.
Regarding Boyle, Sullivan really goes a long way out of his way to not classify Boyle as injured, but the big forward is close to teetering away from “maintenance day” and over to the “day-to-day” injured category.
Mike Sullivan on Brian Boyle: “He is just dealing with nagging lower-body stuff. I’d like to say he’s a maintenance day right now, but that status may change moving forward. It could become a day-to-day thing, but it’s nothing significant.”— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) December 16, 2021
There was one other piece of bad news, assistant coach Ty Hennes is in COVID protocol. The Pens were hit by a cluster of cases weeks ago but have recently been spared the wave of infections that have invaded other teams and sports lately. Who knows how long that will remain to be the case or really anything at this point.