COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Evgeni Malkin joked that practice "is a little bit easy for me" these days.
It's about to get tougher.
The second-line center is expected to miss his seventh game in a row tonight when the Penguins play the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is hopeful that he will be cleared for contact Monday in practice, the last step before he can return from a left leg injury.
"I think I'm ready to [have] contact the next practice," Malkin said after practicing with the Penguins Saturday at Nationwide Arena.
"Just [need to] not rush it. We'll see."
Malkin has not been skating on a set line or participating in power-play drills.
"He's going to have to see some contact before he goes toward playing," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Malkin has nine goals, 32 assists in 32 games. He got hurt Dec. 14 in a game at Detroit. He was backchecking hard when he slid skates-first into the end boards.
"It's quick," Malkin said of the play. "I came back and I saw forwards a little bit [ahead] of me. I just tried to play my stick on the puck. I turned a little bit and crashed my back and my left leg was stuck on the ice."
Like a lot of others, Malkin is impressed that the Penguins have been winning despite having been hit with many injuries. He pointed out that replacements from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League have filled in well.
He also singled out two teammates, center Sidney Crosby and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
"Sid, our captain, is playing well, and everyone looks at how the captain plays and follows him," Malkin said. "And [Fleury] is doing an unbelievable job, too."
Scuderi's return imminent
Defenseman Rob Scuderi, out since Oct. 26 when his left ankle was broken, could return as soon as tonight.
"I feel comfortable," Scuderi said. "It's a coaches' decision. Unless something drastic happens [before game time], the decision will be in their hands."
Bylsma said Scuderi is "working his way back to playing, hopefully, in the next two games."
Scuderi, a solid defensive defenseman, doesn't expect it to be easy to play after missing more than two months.
"The only thing that will be rusty for me is just getting back into game action," he said. "You certainly don't want to do a trial-and-error in the middle of a season, but there's no other way to do it.
"You have to play games. You have to be in certain situations, and the more you get into them, the more comfortable you feel again."
Defenseman Deryk Engelland is the only Penguins player left who played a significant amount under Todd Richards at Wilkes-Barre. Richards is the Columbus coach now, and the two spent a few minutes catching up Saturday before the Penguins practiced.
"He did a lot for me," Engelland said.
He previously had been a sixth or seventh defenseman with Hershey of the AHL, but Richards paired him with Alex Goligoski as a second pairing.
"It was really good for my career, playing more minutes and in different situations," Engelland said.
"He got me going in the right direction."
Bylsma was Richards' assistant at Wilkes-Barre, then took over for him as head coach.
The two remain friends, and Richards will be one of Bylsma's assistants for Team USA at the Sochi Olympics in February.
Orpik return seamless
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik practiced and had no ill effects after returning Friday against Carolina 20 days after a concussion.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.