With 11 wins in a row and no losses in regulation in their past 14 games going into their match tonight at Buffalo, the Penguins aren't exactly struggling.
Yet coach Dan Bylsma had some encouraging news Friday regarding a couple of injured players.
Forward Evgeni Malkin, who has missed the past three games because of a nagging knee injury, "is significantly better, as we had hoped and planned, and he will be on the ice with us [today] in the morning skate," Bylsma said.
It's not known whether Malkin will be in the lineup against the Sabres.
Game: Penguins at Buffalo Sabres, 7:08 p.m. today, HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ryan Miller for Sabres.
Penguins: Are 1-0 vs. Sabres, 4-3 vs. Northeast Division. ... 21 road points among best in NHL. ... One of most-penalized teams in NHL (16.2 minutes a game).
Sabres: Are 2-3-2 vs. Atlantic Division. ... 5 short-handed goals against among most in league. ... 32.9 shots per game among most in NHL.
Of note: Penguins C Sidney Crosby has moved to near top of NHL with 21.5 shooting percentage.
Malkin, Bylsma said previously, needed to rest to let the injury heal because the team believed playing through the pain would prolong the problem. He aggravated the knee Dec. 2 early in a game against Atlanta and, although he finished that game with reduced ice time, he has not played or practiced since.
It is believed this is the same problem that caused Malkin to miss a game Oct. 30 at Carolina. A former NHL scoring champion, Malkin is off of his expected pace with eight goals, 22 points in 26 games.
Meanwhile, although center Jordan Staal won't be ready to play right away, there has been progress with his surgically repaired right hand. He has been skating on his own, and the pin in his hand has been removed.
"He's scheduled for another X-ray next week," Bylsma said. "There's calcification in the bone [indicating healing], and we need to continue to see that next week during his scheduled X-ray. He'll keep rehabbing on his current course."
Staal, one of the top two-way forwards in the NHL, has not played this season.
He missed the Penguins' first 12 games because of a stubborn infection in his right foot following April surgery. About 48 hours before he was scheduled to make his season debut, he got hit in the hand with a puck during practice and had surgery Nov. 2.
The Penguins were hopeful he could play around mid-December. There is still a chance he will get into the lineup before Christmas.
Two other players missed practice Friday at Southpointe.
Defenseman Paul Martin said out as a "maintenance day," Bylsma said.
"He was best served to not be on the ice," the coach said. "He'll be out there [today]."
Forward Mike Comrie continues to work out off ice as he recovers from an undisclosed injury. Defensemen Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang, who sat out practice Thursday, returned to the ice.
Although the Penguins practiced with and have been playing with 12 healthy forwards, they recalled Dustin Jeffrey from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he has been on a tear in the American Hockey League. Jeffrey, 22, is tied for the AHL scoring lead with 30 points, including 13 goals, in 25 games.
There was no word on whether he will play tonight.