The Penguins scrambled a little Monday to open a roster spot for center Evgeni Malkin, but there was nothing half-cooked about allowing him return from a concussion.
Malkin -- who was hurt Feb. 22 and diagnosed with a concussion two days later -- was in the lineup Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center, one day after he got clearance for contact and practiced with the team but said he thought he needed "a couple more" practices to be ready.
But he passed an ImPACT neurocognitive test Sunday, went through a normal morning skate Monday and dressed for the game.
Despite some setbacks and frustration when fellow Penguins center Sidney Crosby was recovering from a concussion, the team had no reservations about Malkin's return.
"We clearly followed [NHL concussion] protocol carefully and have taken every precaution possible," coach Dan Bylsma said. "In this case, Evgeni had some memory loss that [abated], and he's felt good for ... seven full days. He's worked out hard on and off the ice for part of those days, had full contact, full go in practice [Sunday].
"We're not talking about gut feelings and what we feel. He's spent the time going through the protocol, seven full days. As coaches, we're not really involved with the protocol. He's seen doctors and gone through the regimen and finished all those [Sunday]."
Malkin, the defending NHL scoring champion and MVP, missed four games.
To clear a roster spot for him, the Penguins placed winger Zach Boychuk on waivers and assigned winger Beau Bennett to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
Boychuk will remain on the 23-man roster until noon today. If he is not claimed by another team -- Carolina previously expressed an interest in reacquiring him -- he could be sent to Wilkes-Barre. That would clear the way for Bennett to be returned to the NHL roster in time for a game Thursday at Philadelphia.
Bennett, 21, a Penguins first-round draft pick in 2010, has a goal and two assists in eight NHL games and is seen as a potential regular on one of the top two lines.
Boychuk, 23, was a 2008 first-round draft pick by Carolina. The Penguins picked him up off of waivers Jan. 31 as a potential left winger for Malkin.
In eight games, Boychuk had no points and didn't convert at least a handful of prime scoring chances. He then was a healthy scratch for nine games in a row, including, technically, Monday night.
Defenseman Simon Despres dressed for the Penguins' 7-6 win Saturday at Montreal after being scratched for two games, and Bylsma was impressed with the rookie's play.
Despres had a plus-minus rating of plus-2, three hits, one blocked shot and an assist on Brandon Sutter's overtime goal.
"Simon played, we can safely say, one of his better games, if not his best game, in Montreal," Bylsma said.
Despres did that in front of many family members and friends. He is from the Montreal suburb of Laval.
That means the Penguins couldn't replicate Despres' motivation.
"We tried to get all of his family that were there at the game to come to this game [against Tampa Bay], too. They weren't all able to come down," Bylsma cracked.
Bylsma said the key to Despres playing well is consistency.
"Again, I'm not sure I can bring all his family in, so he's got to bring that consistency on his own," Bylsma said.
The Penguins played for the second game in a row without defenseman Paul Martin, who has an undisclosed injury. He worked out on the ice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar before the morning skate and is listed as day to day by Bylsma. ... In what has become an annual event, Penguins players surprised those in the student rush line before the game with pizzas. James Neal, Deryk Engelland, Matt Cooke, Marc-Andre Fleury and Pascal Dupuis, along with Bylsma, delivered the pies. ... In addition to Boychuk and Martin, the Penguins scratched defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. ... Injured winger Ryan Malone, an Upper St. Clair native and former Penguins player, did not play for the Lightning.penguins