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Evgeni Malkin’s status and health uncertain for Game 1

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The question marks around the Penguins’ star center have only grown over the week, and he’s not practicing 100%

NHL: MAY 06 Sabres at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Do the Penguins have a developing issue regarding the health of Evgeni Malkin?

The signs and context clues out of practice are not encouraging.

On Saturday, just one day before Game 1 of the series against the Islanders, Malkin’s involvement took a step back. He was on the ice for practice, but in a limited role. Malkin did not take line rushes, which he hasn’t all week.

The bigger and worse sign, he was not working with the first (or second) group for the power play. Malkin was practicing with the PP earlier in the week.

Malkin’s involvement on the ice has been spotty all week. On Wednesday the team had a practice and then capped it off with a scrimmage. The center participated in the former, but then did not with the latter. Mike Sullivan called it a “coach’s decision” at the time.

Not scrimmaging on Wednesday is one thing. Plenty of time for rest and gearing up. Not taking part in drills or working with the power play just 24 hours prior to Game 1? That’s a much different and more troubling sign.

Another troubling sign: Evan Rodrigues wasn’t just moonlighting as a placeholder for Malkin in the rushes with Malkin’s usual linemates (Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen). Instead, the Pens’ middle two lines were completely revamped with Frederick Gaudreau shifting back to center and the power combo of Jared McCann and Jeff Carter joining Kapanen on a line that had success in Malkin’s prior absence.

Just based on these line rushes — which is dangerous to put too much stock in them — but they don’t simply indicate that Malkin is expected to play. If so, Rodrigues would have been with Zucker and Kapanen today taking the Geno spot and the Carter line remaining as it has been (with Gaudreau and McCann).

Sullivan hasn’t addressed Malkin’s status or availability for Game 1, but you already know what he will say. Everyone is a game-time decision for tomorrow. Whether or not Malkin is playing, the Penguins aren’t going to say until the lineup is released a few minutes prior to the game starting.

Malkin was out from March 16th - May 3rd with a knee injury. He returned for the final four regular season games, but seemed to tweak something either new or existing in his leg in the last regular season game when he fell awkwardly against Buffalo on May 8th. Malkin didn’t leave the bench but did not look very comfortable, had several conversations with the trainers and played only one shift in the final 11:33 of the third period.

We’ll see very soon if Malkin can play — and if he does just how healthy he will be. Game 1 starts tomorrow. The Penguins time of having a full lineup (Casey DeSmith got hurt as well this week coming back from an injury and hasn’t practiced in recent days) doesn’t look like it made it through an off week. And now the grind is really about to begin.