More than six months after he had a procedure to dissolve a blood clot and more than 10 months after he last played in a game that counted, Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun is nearly ready to play again.
But not with the Penguins, at least not right away.
Vokoun will begin a conditioning assignment today with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday after practice at Southpointe.
He apparently will start one or two of Wilkes-Barre’s three weekend games. The first of those games is Friday at Syracuse.
“At this point in time, we have to see if can [play],” Bylsma said. “He’ll get that opportunity in Wilkes-Barre this weekend.”
Vokoun, 37, was on blood-thinners until mid-January. He then began skating, then facing some shots and has been practicing since late February.
Lately, his participation in practice has increased. Tuesday, Vokoun, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff seemed to share the goaltending workload pretty evenly.
“He does have some body soreness. He does have some [bumps and bruises] he’s dealing with,” Bylsma said.
The NHL playoffs begin next week. If all goes well with Vokoun on his conditioning assignment, he might be available should the Penguins need or want him. Last season, Vokoun stepped in as the starter after Fleury faltered in the first round of the playoffs. Bylsma, however, has said he is comfortable going into the postseason with Zatkoff, a rookie, serving as Fleury’s backup.
Malkin skates lightly
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin skated lightly separately from the team the past two days, after a doctor’s appointment for his injured right foot.
“There’s no timetable on that injury, but he is back on the ice,” Bylsma said.
Malkin has missed the past eight games. He initially was projected to miss two to three weeks. Sunday will be three weeks.
Another injured center, Joe Vitale, joined Malkin for a light skate Tuesday. He had resumed practicing with the team, but left a team road trip over the weekend to return to Pittsburgh to see a doctor.
“We’re kind of trying to see what’s best in terms of rest or getting back and practicing,” Bylsma said.
Vitale has missed the past 10 games because of an unspecified injury.
Yet another injured center, Marcel Goc, is not skating and is wearing an orthopedic boot on his left foot. He was hurt March 27, and initially was projected to return sometime around the beginning of the playoffs.
Four players who sat out the win Sunday at Colorado because of apparently minor injuries — forwards Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz and defensemen Olli Maatta and Brooks Orpik — practiced. Maatta is the only one of the four who missed the past two games. Bylsma described those four as day to day, and Crosby validated that.
“I feel good,” Crosby said. “Just kind of going day to day, but definitely feel good.”
No full season for Crosby
Missing the game Sunday robbed Crosby of a chance to play in all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his NHL career. If he plays in the final three games, he would match his career high of 81 games, set in his rookie season of 2005-06 and matched in 2009-10.
“I’d love to,” Crosby said of playing in all 82 sometime, “but I think I’ve played more than 82 if you’re counting every one.”
Crosby was referring to playing in the Olympics in February, when he served as captain for Canada’s gold medal-winning team.
“So I’m OK with that,” he said. “Most important is that you feel good at the right time, and that’s the playoffs.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.