It turns out the memory loss that led to Evgeni Malkin being diagnosed with a concussion was selective.
Or, at least, it might seem that way to anyone who watched replays of his violent crash into the boards Feb. 22 at Consol Energy Center.
It was only that play in particular that went missing from the Penguins center's memory bank.
"I remember the whole game, just not the hit," Malkin said Sunday after taking a significant step in his recovery.
Malkin was cleared for contact. He joined 14 teammates for an optional practice at Southpointe and participated in drills that included puck battles in the corners and in front of the net.
"We saw him go through three drills designed to provide him with that contact, so he did have that down low," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He did well."
It does not seem likely Malkin will be available tonight when the Penguins play the Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center, but he might not be too far from returning.
"I feel pretty good right now," he said. "We'll see. Maybe I'll come back soon."
He allowed, though, that, "It was a good practice, but I need a couple more, I think. ... We'll see [about] the next step."
Malkin said he was scheduled to have an ImPACT neurocognitive test later Sunday. That will be compared with a baseline test he took before the concussion.
NHL concussion protocol requires that Malkin pass the ImPACT test and be cleared by doctors.
Malkin, 26, the defending NHL scoring champion and MVP, had skated on his own without full gear and worked out off-ice in Pittsburgh since the injury. Sunday was his first time on the ice with his teammates, who just returned from a three-game road trip.
"Evgeni is at six days of feeling real well," said Bylsma, who nevertheless is unwilling at this point to picture Malkin back in the lineup.
The club got a lesson in how unpredictable concussion recovery can be when team captain Sidney Crosby missed most of a 14-month period beginning in January 2011 because of a concussion and neck injury. Crosby spent long periods of time skating on his own or in practice without contact before he was cleared to have contact or play, and he had setbacks.
"It's the type of injury you don't have any expectations for players and what they're going through and what the next step is going to be," Bylsma said, adding, "It's been good to see [Malkin] do well and feel well and skate in the workouts and then [Sunday] go through some contact drills in practice."
Malkin said Crosby's injury did not and does not change his approach to playing.
"I wasn't worried," he said. "We aren't going to rush. We have good doctors right now.
"I'm just feeling good, and I'm glad."
Malkin was near the top of the NHL scoring race again with 21 points in 18 games when he got hurt.
On the play, in the third period of a 3-1 win against Florida, Malkin was driving to the net with the puck when he got checked by Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson. He left his skates, slid at a high speed and slammed back-first into the end boards, with his head rocking violently and hitting the boards in a whiplash motion. He remained on the ice for a short time, then skated off under his own power.
Although Malkin did not remember the injury, he has seen replays.
"Of course I watched it. I watched it 10 times," he said, adding that he absolved Gudbranson, who was not penalized on the play.
Replays seem gruesome, but Malkin shrugged it off.
"In highlights, it looked bad, but it wasn't as bad as it looked," he said.
Malkin described it this way: "I tried to shoot the puck and lost a little bit of my control and hit the boards. It's no penalty. I'm trying to shoot and ... I stepped with my left leg, and my right leg is a little bit higher. I just lost my position and just [fell to] the ice, and I hit the boards. It's bad luck."
Malkin also isn't willing to blame his transition to a smaller ice surface, with less room behind the net, after playing on the larger international ice surface for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia the first few months of the season during the NHL lockout.
"I like to play here," he said of the NHL. "It's a little bit smaller ice, but it doesn't matter for me. I love to play here. It was just bad luck."
Malkin said the memory disconnect was his only symptom.
"No headaches," he said.
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter: @pgshelly. First Published March 4, 2013 5:00 AM