Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin looks to be a heavy favorite to win the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL's most valuable player in the regular season.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is not sure he should be.
Not because of any failings on the part of Ovechkin, who led the league with 56 goals, but because Bylsma believes Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, the NHL scoring champion, deserves to be viewed as a legitimate challenger.
"I don't know how you could not consider him," Bylsma said yesterday. "When you perform at that level throughout the year, you're deemed worthy.
"To me, there's no question that he's elevated his game, and he deserves that consideration. It's my belief that he shouldn't be a dark horse, that he should be right up there."
- What: Penguins at Washington Capitals in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
- When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
- TV: WPXI.
Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk is the third finalist for the Hart, the winner of which will be announced at the NHL's awards ceremony June 18 in Las Vegas.
Right winger Petr Sykora, a healthy scratch for the final two games of the Penguins' first-round series against Philadelphia, will be back in uniform at some point, Bylsma said.
But it's far from certain that he and Miroslav Satan, who replaced him in the lineup, will dress for the same game.
"The farther we go, the better the chances that you're going to see both of them, at different times," Bylsma said.
Which is used in a particular game, he added, "will probably come down to who we are playing, what matchups we think we might be getting."
Sykora was a non-factor against the Flyers, but Bylsma predicted he will have an impact this spring.
"Petr is a guy who, I think, will get back in the lineup and who will score a goal for us at a big time," he said.
Power forward prospect Eric Tangradi underwent surgery in his hometown of Philadelphia to repair what team officials described as a "complete tendon laceration" in his left hand.
Barring complications, Tangradi is expected to need about three months to heal and should be ready for training camp. The Penguins do not anticipate any long-term problems because of the injury or operation.
Tangradi, playing for the Belleville Bulls, was injured in an Ontario Hockey League playoff game against Brampton a week ago when he collided with Battalion goalie Thomas McCollum.
The prevailing sentiment among Penguins personnel for much of Tuesday seemed to be that if they faced Washington in Round 2, the series would start tonight.
In reality, Game 1 will be at 1:08 p.m. Saturday at the Verizon Center.
Having a few extra days to recover from a surprisingly long and demanding series against the New York Rangers might seem to work to Washington's advantage, but Bylsma said he has no strong feelings about the possible benefits or drawbacks of starting the series Saturday.
"You're never going to know that answer," he said. "There are times when momentum [from a Game 7 victory] has carried over. There have been times when the rest has been great for the team that's rested and [times when] it's not so great. It's almost 50-50, I bet.
"Could they have ridden the wave of a Game 7 [victory against the New York Rangers] into [a Game 1] Thursday? Of course, they could have. Is another day or two of rest good for them? We don't know the answer to that. And I'm never going to think there is an answer because I've seen enough playoff hockey, both as a player and as a coach, to know that those are intangible things."
Not playing until Saturday did have at least one tangible effect, though: It prompted Bylsma to give his players yesterday off.