WASHINGTON -- Evgeni Malkin sat out the Penguins' game against Washington at the Verizon Center Wednesday night.
In fact, word circulating through back channels was that Malkin (bruised right foot) returned home well before his teammates did. He has missed four of the past five games, and there is no guarantee he will play Saturday when Philadelphia visits Mellon Arena.
"We don't have a target," coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday, adding that "it's not a long-term situation at this point."
The Penguins obviously would like to get Malkin, their No. 2 scorer, back, and that is especially true of center Sidney Crosby.
Crosby entered the Capitals game tied for third in the NHL scoring race with 88 points, but managed no goals and three assists in the first 10 games Malkin missed.
Precisely why his production drops is a mystery, and perhaps a coincidence, because they usually are on the ice together only on power plays -- when the Penguins rarely score -- and most opponents already make containing Crosby the focus of their defensive game plan.
"I don't think the defense pairings he sees change at all," Bylsma said. "Who he sees [facing him], and his opportunity to play with good players doesn't really change that much."
Crosby pointed out that, "it's not like we're linemates," and that, "most teams, [Malkin] or I are going to see their top [defensemen] somehow, especially on the road."
The Capitals are on the verge of locking up the top seed in the Eastern Conference and look like an awfully good bet to finish first overall in the league.
And while Washington coach Bruce Boudreau downplays the importance of winning the Presidents' Trophy, per se, he likes the perks that come with it. Especially having home-ice advantage in every round of the playoffs.
"I think it would be to our advantage to have home ice," he said.
"Any advantage you can get, whether it be a really big advantage or the most miniscule one in the world, it can all [make] a difference in a game that sometimes goes by the hundredth of a second [to determine] if you scored a goal.
"We want to have all the advantages we can."
While Boudreau is interested in getting every possible edge, he does not seem terribly interested in monitoring who his team might face in the opening round.
Not yet, anyway.
"I'm trying not to do it and say, 'Oh, I don't want to play them, they're too good,' " he said.
"Then, I realize that they're all good. You have to play somebody, and nobody is going to give us a bye into the final. All good teams make the playoffs."
While facing the likes of Washington and Detroit, as the Penguins did on their two-game road trip, is no way to accumulate points in a hurry, the Penguins seem convinced that there are benefits to doing it.
"We like these games," Bylsma said Wednesday. "We want to be tested by Detroit. We want to go into Washington and play this team. We wanted to play against New Jersey the previous week, as well.
"These games are games where we're exposing ourselves and want to see if we can up our game, see if we can up the emotional level and our consistency. That's the way we're approaching these games, as tests."
In addition to Malkin, the Penguins scratched defenseman Sergei Gonchar (illness) and right winger Eric Godard. ... Right winger Bill Guerin, on what Crosby says about things he has achieved since entering the NHL: "I know Sid's proud of what he's accomplished, but he doesn't brag about it. He doesn't even talk about it, which is pretty amazing."