Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has circled a game Friday against the Islanders in New York. That's when he's hoping to return from what's believed to be a shoulder injury.
"I hope," Malkin said Tuesday. "I miss hockey. I miss my team. I hope Friday, yes."
Malkin was on the ice for the Penguins' morning skate after working for a half-hour with conditioning coach Mike Kadar, but he did not participate in many of the drills or play Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center.
"I feel pretty good," Malkin said, adding that joining his teammates on the ice for the first time was "just the next step to my recovery."
Malkin missed his sixth game since he got hurt March 9.
Also out of the lineup Tuesday was defenseman Kris Letang, who left a game Sunday against Boston after apparently aggravating a nagging leg problem. Letang was not in the game-day skate and coach Dan Bylsma called him "day-to-day."
Winger Matt Cooke also missed the game-day skate -- presumably related to a painful blocked shot that limited his ice time Sunday against Boston -- but was in the lineup for the Penguins.
Top line chemistry
Pascal Dupuis is having a productive season playing on Sidney Crosby's right wing. He had 14 goals, 21 points entering a game against the Capitals.
He was coy, even humorous, when asked about the Penguins' top line.
"Chemistry?" he said. "It's playing with the best player in the league. It makes it easier on me and [left winger Chris Kunitz]. It's a matter of hard work, creating loose pucks, creating havoc and trying to get open."
Asked if there is good communication on the ice among the three, Dupuis smiled and said, "Definitely. We talk quite a bit. Sometimes it's a one-way street from Sid to us, but most of the time, it's comfortable."
Dupuis has been the recipient of a few eye-popping passes from Crosby, who has a strong sense of where his wingers are.
"I've got one way to play, so he knows it now," Dupuis joked.
On a more serious note, Dupuis said he benefited from the many short-rink, three-on-three scrimmages several of the Penguins held during the lockout that delayed the start of the season until Jan. 19.
"Those tight, three-on-three games down low, being in tight and having to beat a guy, having a guy right on your shoulder and making the right move at the right time, through sticks, beating guys -- I think it actually helped my game a lot," he said.
Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis often skated together in those informal, player-run practices.
Capitals on the brink
The game Tuesday was the first of four in a row on the road for Washington. Winger and captain Alex Ovechkin made it clear this is a make-or-break week for the Capitals, who entered 13th in the Eastern Conference, five spots below the playoff cutoff.
"We can end the season this week, or we continue to fight for the playoffs," Ovechkin said earlier in the week.
He did not back off of that Tuesday.
"The playoffs come up pretty soon," he said. "We have a points gap between us and the [playoff] teams."
Linemate Nicklas Backstrom seconded Ovechkin's idea.
"Absolutely," he said. "We've got to really push this week. I agree with him."
A home game Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers was moved to 7:38 p.m. to accommodate television. It had been 7:08 p.m. ... Bylsma on why his club was on a 21-2-1 stretch at home against Southeast Division teams going into the game: "I don't have a good answer for it." ... Center Brooks Laich made his season debut for Washington after being out because of a groin injury. ... Capitals coach Adam Oates on the condensed schedule, a result of the lockout: "The schedule is so crazy. There are so many games that every day you look and it's, 'That team played again last night?' " ... In a scheduling quirk, Washington's next two games are in Winnipeg.
? Looking ahead
Date Opponent Time TV
3/22 Islanders 7 Root
4/3 Rangers 7:30 NBCSN
4/9 Hurricanes 7 Root
4/11 Lightning 7:30 Root
4/13 Panthers 7:30 Root
4/19 Bruins 7 Root
4/22 Senators 7:30 Root
4/25 Devils 7:30 Root
Home games in bold
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.